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I've Met You Once Before...

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Kuwabara walked quietly down a long hallway, his eyes staring straight ahead. He was being extra careful to not stray from his line of sight, not wishing to lock eyes with any old familiar face he might run into. It was going to be hard enough talking to Koenma, so running into anyone else that might know him would just make this all more difficult. As his steps echoed down the hall, Kuwabara began to regret even agreeing to show up to Spirit World.

He no longer had any reason to be here.

He was not rushing off for a mission, or meeting with Koenma to have a friendly chit-chat. He wasn't meeting Yusuke, Kurama, and Hiei to do some favor for Koenma's sake. He wasn't even coming to visit Botan and check in on the goofy grim reaper.

Life was different now.

Kazuma Kuwabara was going to school, college in fact. It had been hard, and he had faltered many times, but now at the age of twenty-six, he was almost ready to graduate. He needed to complete one more task, and he would have his degree by the next semester. Kuwabara had jumped around within college, unsure what he wanted from the experience. It took a year, but during a grueling study session, Kuwabara had recalled how poorly his teachers had been to him in his high school days. No one had given him a fair shake at school. But it hadn't been just him that suffered.

It seemed that any student who wasn't your typical average Japanese student didn't get the attention they deserved. And if there was a teacher that cared, there were just too many students that needed help. With some shock from his friends, and even from himself, Kuwabara had decided he would be a teacher. He would be the teacher he never got to have. He just needed to get his student teaching out of the way, and he'd be done with school and launching into his new life as an academic role model.

Kuwabara couldn't resist chuckling aloud at the thought.

Years later, he still found his choice to be a teacher, terribly and humorously ironic.

So that was it.

Kuwabara's life was getting wrapped up, everything was falling into place. There was no reason to be here...and yet here he was. A letter from Koenma, asking for Kuwabara's help, had the young man running, ready to leap back into action. Just like the old days.

But why was he even here? He was not a spirit detective anymore. He had barely seen anyone from the Spirit World in the last year. He couldn't even recall the last time he's seen Yusuke, Kurama or Hiei. They... barely met after all. After...

He had no reason to answer this call for help... surely no one wanted him now. And yet...

Kuwabara came to a stop in front of a familiar set of doors.

They were still ostentatious, too large, and bright pink. He smiled to himself as a little rush of eagerness stirred within him. It reminded him of those days with his friends, heading off on their next adventure. Those missions had been trying, but through them, Kuwabara had learned a lot about himself and formed friendships that were stronger than the bonds of family. Hell, even Hiei held a special place in Kuwabara's heart that others couldn't replace!

This small rush of memories and familiarity were almost intoxicating.

"Ugh...I'm disgusting!" Kuwabara wheezed as he tried to shake the warm and gooey feelings that were washing over him.

He wasn't even pushing thirty and he was already having sentimental thoughts like an old man!

Kuwabara shook his head clearing his head, steeling his heart for what could be awaiting him. He raised a hand to knock on the doors. As his hand lifted up, the doors suddenly swung inwards on their own, revealing an ornate office. Or at least it used to be ornate...

The office had once been done in the taste of Koenma's father, Yenma. However, it seemed since Koenma has usurped his father, the office had received some updates. The office no longer was filled with useless red pillars and large potted plants, or vases that were reminiscent of the Ming dynasty. The office now had a more modern and even minimalistic look. The pillars were gone, as were the plants, and vases.

Everything was painted in various shades of blue and gray. Koenma's desk had been updated to a larger black model, and an additional desk was placed in the corner. Both desks teetered with neat stacks of papers. Overall, the room seemed cleaner, and emptier, though no doubt Koenma still had his large wall-sized monitor screen tucked away somewhere.

Sitting behind the new desk, in his teenaged form, was Koenma, his hands hurriedly pressing a stamp into some stacks of paper. He was only visible from about the nose up due to the stacks of papers, and his brown eyes seemed to be focused on his work. Kuwabara cleared his throat, unsure of what he should say to get the Demi-god's attention.

Koenma looked up, and then very quickly his eyes darted to Kuwabara's leg, before going back up to look Kuwabara in the eyes.

Kuwabara pursed his lips and put his hands in his pockets so Koenma would not see the fists he was making. He hated it when people did that. They always gave him this look now. A look at him, then his leg, and then back up again.

With that look, it reminded Kuwabara why he hadn't been sure of coming. WHy he desperately needed to fully launch himself into his new school life. Why he and his friends hardly ever seemed to meet.

Kuwabara snapped his eyes to the floor so that he wouldn't glare.

Koenma, sensing he had already made a misstep, quickly got up and plastered on a large smile, his pacifier shifting to one side.

"Kuwabara! You got my letter! Thank you for coming!"

Koenma then hurried to meet Kuwabara his hand extended for a handshake.

Kuwabara took it, giving a hard firm shake, before clearing his throat, "Yeah...It was... kinda weird to get a letter from you. It's not what I expected."

"You cut your hair!" Koenma declared, clearly missing anything Kuwabara had just said.

Kuwabara instinctively reached up and touched his hair. His sister had given him a haircut called an, "Undercut." She claimed that if he was going off to be a teacher, his students needed to respect him and the Pompadour had to go. Kuwabara had reluctantly allowed her to do so, as his College professor had also told Kuwabara his hair wouldn't be appropriate as a student teacher. The undercut was a nice modern style, and people praised his slightly curly copper hair with new zeal, but Kuwabara swore that when he was a teacher-his Pomp was coming back!

"Oh yeah...my professor said a lot of schools won't accept me as a student teacher if my hair looked like it did...so Shizuru cut it for me," Kuwabara explained, reflexively ruffling the longer part of his hair. 

Koenma nodded, his eyes staring at Kuwabara's hair for a long time, before looking at his face. There was an awkward pause, where Koenma just seemed to be looking at Kuwabara. It was odd and a little uncomfortable, but in truth, Kuwabara understood why Koenma was looking at him. It had been almost a year since the pair had last talked or met up with one another. 

The silence eventually got to be too much, and Kuwabara cleared his throat, "So...You said you wanted to see if I could help you?"

Koenma shook himself out of his trance, and laughed, his voice coming out high and forced, "Yes! Yes of course. You see Kuwabara, I was hoping that I could rely on your extremely high spiritual awareness to help me out with a problem." Koennma looked Kuwabara in the eye, and the taller man nodded gesturing for Koenma to continue.

Koenma nodded, smiling tightly, and then abruptly began to pace, folding his hands behind his back. 

"Near Tokyo, it has come to my attention that some strange things are happening. I must admit, they have been happening for a while, but for a time I was too busy to really pay it any attention. But now these mysterious happenings-well there are just too many to ignore!" Koenma burst, throwing his hands up.

Kuwabara's eyes darted over Koenma, extremely curious about Koenma's stressed and wild behavior. "Go on, I'm listening," Kuwabara proclaimed, and then he began to pace with Koenma, slightly following behind the demi-god's tense pace.

"Low-level monsters are appearing in the street! In broad daylight!" Koenma continued, eyes focused down on the floor as he paced, "And they are not demons, but monsters! These creatures have power...but it doesn't seem to be quite demonic. It's...different somehow! And there are many different kinds, all attacking the people of Tokyo for... well that I'm not sure of either! I've sent agents to investigate, and they report that not only are there monsters running about, but there are...girls fighting them. And these girls have power as well! The girls' powers appear to be a mixture of spiritual power...and something else."

"Something else?" Kuwabara echoed.

Koenma looked to Kuwabara sharply and nodded, "Yes. Laced with psychic ability, and elements like water and fire, and so on... but there is something else! Something that goes beyond the human realm. The power is so strong I can't tell what it is! I don't understand what is happening, or even if this is a threat, but I was hoping you-" Koenma turned sharply around to fully face Kuwabara. In doing so, his leg accidentally swung out and caught Kuwabara's left ankle.

Kuwabara grimaced, and his hand shot out to steady himself, while Koenma was rushing forward to help. The demi-god grasped Kuwabara and righted the man, hooking his arm around Kuwabara's waist. He did not let Kuwabara go and instead clung to the taller man, looking down at Kuwabara's legs with clear alarm.

"Oh, my Goodness Kuwabara! Did that hurt!?"

"Just a bit-"

"Well of course it hurt! What a stupid question of me-"

"Koenma-"

"I am so sorry! Let me get you a chair-"

"No. Stop-"

"Is it better to walk? I can't believe I did such a-"

"Stop. Stop! It is really no big deal-"

"-thing! I'm mortified! Kuwabara! Please, please come sit! You can use my office chair-"

"That. Is. Enough!"  Kuwabara snarled shoving the clinging man away.

Kuwabara's face was flushed red, and orange electricity cackled off his shoulders, and his eyes flashed gold. Koenma released Kuwabara, wincing as the energy that snapped off Kuwabara stung him. The energy lowered, but Kuwabara was still furious, and his eyes glowed with a barely contained power.

"I did not come here to be treated like some sort of...some sort of cripple! (At this Koenma gasped loudly and his skin turned the shade of milk) I thought I had come here to help you with something! I didn't come here to be coddled, or for anyone to make a scene over poor stupid Kuwabara's injury! I'm done with the babying! And the avoiding! I thought..." Kuwabara took in a deep breath, and let it out in a shuddering breath as he tried to school his emotions back under control, "I thought I was done...with all this." Kuwabara waved his hands between himself and Koenma, refusing to look back at the man, his anger quickly boiling down to shame.

He should not have come.

There was a long silence, with neither party seeming to know what to say, or who should act first. Koenma, mercifully, made the first move with a quiet, "I don't think you're a cripple. I'm sorry. What happened...was such a big deal. For everyone. And I...I can't help but feel responsible-"

Kuwabara's head whipped around to Koenma, who immediately pressed his lips together in silence from Kuwabara's explosive look.

"This is not your fault!" Kuwabara half-roared, grinding out each word clearly. His nostrils flared in agitation, but when he spoke again it was in a calmer but insistent tone, "What happened to me was not your fault. Not anyone's! You...you must know that."

Koenma's shoulder's sagged, "Kuwabara...you have to understand. Back when you joined Yusuke... if I had never let you get involved with the spirit detectives. If I had never sent you there... then none of this-"

"You didn't send me anywhere!" Kuwabara dismissed, "I went myself. I volunteered to go with Urameshi the very first mission with the St. Beasts. I got myself involved and I kept staying involved! I went with Yusuke, Kurama, Hiei... and shit! We were a team... we weren't going to know someone would..." Kuwabara swallowed hard, "There was no way to know what someone would do. Shit got... shit got bad! But it always got rough on missions! You can't blame my injury on my choosing to go on that first mission all those years ago. The only person at fault is the person who did..." Kuwabara's hand reflexively touched his left leg, "who did this to me. You can't blame yourself for this. No one can. The only person at fault is rotting in hell right now."

Koenma sighed, "I understand what you're saying...and I am trying not to...not to worry I suppose? This feeling of remorse and guilt isn't something I can just shut off. I will try to do better. But... trust me. There's not a single thing out there that I believe you can't do. I have complete faith in all you do. I'm not coddling you, or babying you...or treating you...like you have a handicap. But I'm still worried about you because... well I like you and I think...well..."

"We are friends Koenma. Even if absent of late. We're friends," Kuwabara quietly confirmed.

The tension eased, as the pair shared awkward smiles.

"So...what did you want me to do again?" Kuwabara asked, briskly swinging his arms as he felt the need to do something build.

"I know that you will begin your student teaching soon. I was hoping you would agree for me to make it so the school sends you to the Juuban district in Tokyo. This is where most of this weird activity is taking place. I'm hoping you can use your psychic abilities to pick up on the weird energy coming from these creatures, from these girls, and give me more of a clue as to what is going on. Perhaps you'll even be able to sense who these girls are," Koenma explained, "Your powers have come through for you before. In the dark tournament, you were able to find out what happened to En, Ryo, and Kai. If a dream revealed what was forcing them to fight during the tournament, I thought perhaps if you went to Juuban you might have another useful dream."

"My predictions have been coming in clearer and clearer over the years," Kuwabara agreed, "If I goto Juuban...I really might be able to sense something. What about the monsters, and these powerful girls? What should I do if I encounter them?"

"If you run into the monsters, and you can capture it, that would be ideal. If we brought one of these creatures here we could determine if they're demonic...or man-made," Koenma explained, eyebrows raising to his hairline as if the last part of his sentence had just dawned on him.

"You think these weird monsters are man-made?" Kuwabara asked, squinting curiously at Koenma.

"Now I'm starting to," Koenma affirmed, "How else would I not be able to recognize this odd energy coming from them? We've seen attempts at this before. Perhaps someone has tried to make their own version of demons to continue the traditions of my father. Pitting demons against humans once again."

Kuwabara nodded agreeing with Koenma's line of thought. There were holes of course. How were the demons being made? Who would do it? Why would they do it? But these were all questions Kuwabara felt could be answered if he actually did go to Tokyo. Shoving his hands in his pockets, Kuwabara asked, "And the girls?"

"Try to avoid them if you can. Or at least don't let them see you. If you could figure them out, and where they stand on this... that's really all I want," Koenma reasoned as he rubbed the back of his neck, "To my knowledge, they are fighting the monsters and that's it. Protecting mankind-"

"Supergirls," Kuwabara concluded with a nod.

Koenma smiled, "Well yes. Supergirls. Superheroes, even. And if that's the case and you can find a way to approach them, I'd like to meet them. I'm only keeping my distance for the simple fact that their powers, like the monsters, is something I've never seen before."

"If you set it up through my school...I'd be happy to do this. I'll get my student teaching done, and walk around the Juuban district, and into Tokyo. I'm sure I can figure out something. Just...you said you sent agents out to Juuban. What happened? Why do you need me specifically?" Kuwabara asked tilting his head as rolled his questions out.

"My agents were all attacked at some point," Koenma answered seriously. Crossing his arms, and sitting on the edge of his desk, Koenma let out a deep sigh, "They couldn't sense anyone, and they each can barely remember the accident. But they claim the monsters attacked them and pulled things from their body. Spiritual energy, their life-force, and something else. Something physical, like a crystal of some sort. One even swears a mirror came out of their chest! They then admitted to blacking out and waking up seeing the girls leave the scene, and the monster was gone. A few think the girls attacked them, the rest think the girls saved them. One agent thinks they were overwhelmed by something of a more Psionic manipulative nature."

"A Psi-what now?" Kuwabara guffawed, eyes bulging at the word.

Koenma grinned, "Something of a more psychic power nature. Telekinesis. Precognition. Omnikinesis. All of the above!"

"So...just a bunch of psychic powers. Like what I do?" Kuwabara asked wishing Koenma could just speak more simply.

Koenma nodded, "Yes. Which I why I want to send you. Fight fire with fire. Or in this case, psychic with psychic."

Kuwabara smirked, "Okay. I get it now. But you do admit, I'm just bait, right? You get that, right?"

Koenma frowned, "You're not bait!"

"I'm bait," Kuwabara snickered, "And because I'm bait... what do I do if the girls are in on it. What if they work with the monsters?"

Koenma bit the bottom of his lip, "Contact me preferably... if you have to defend yourself. Fight them. Can... you do that?"

Kuwabara nodded, "Yes. Now I can."

Koenma nodded flattening his lips against each other and looking away. After a moment he mumbled, "You really aren't bait."

Kuwabara laughed hard and smacked Koenma against the shoulder with a friendly hand. "I am too you fuckin' diaper baby! But that's okay. I get your reasoning. When do I go?"

"I expect your teacher will bring this up in a week. You'll have to move to be in the area, and I expect you'll be there for four months, and at most a year," Koenma's voice faltered a bit. The mission was more or less an undercover mission and could take some time for some results. Kuwabara would be gone for longer than he and his friends had ever been gone when they worked together. Koenma was incredibly nervous to send Kuwabara on his own and privately wondered if he'd made the right decision on this.

"If you are attacked, you must come back. You must abort this mission," Koenma insisted, his tone suddenly sharp. "And if you get over your head, I have a specially made watch for you. It will call here directly, and I will come get you. I don't want you to do something... that will cost you."

Koenma glanced quickly at Kuwabara's leg.

This time, Kuwabara chose to ignore the look.

"Done. I'm ready, get it all arranged," Kuwabara said, shrugging his shoulders. He turned, making his way towards the door, "Well if that's all, I'm going to start pack-"

"Yusuke and the others aren't back," Koenma suddenly interjected. There was a hesitation in his voice, and he spoke like the words were being pulled from him, "They are still...out. They won't be back for at least a month more...so they won't know-"

"Good," Kuwabara interrupted. "They don't need to know. I will tell them I'm doing my student teaching when they come back."

"Kuwabara-" Koenma began.

"Don't tell them Koenma," Kuwabara pleaded, his voice soft, his back towards the demi-god. "Dont...tell them. You know... they've been a bit... overprotective since..." Kuwabara gripped his pant leg. The silence dragged on between the two, but Kuwabara couldn't bring himself to say it. He hated to admit, but he couldn't bring himself to talk about the past without feeling shame.

He hated being pitied, but the gut-wrenching shame he felt was even harder.

"I won't tell them. But... please consider doing it before the mission is complete. They really care about you," Koenma insisted, "They just... want you to be okay. And... well since Harumi-"

Kuwabara made a weird sound in his throat that silenced Koenma. The ruler of spirit world shot a hand over his mouth, stopping any more words from spilling from his mouth. He watched Kuwabara with wide alarmed eyes and felt a pang of guilt shoot through him as he watched Kuwabara shudder. When Kuwabara's shudder ran its course, the taller man's shoulders sagged and Kuwabara seemed much smaller. Koenma was grateful he could not see Kuwabara's face at this moment.

"I know..." Kuwabara's voice was tired, and cracked as he spoke, "I know. everyone is worried about me. My sister is worried about me. Yukina is worried about me. Genkai is worried about me. And Yusuke, Kurama, and Hiei can't even seem to face me some days. I never thought I'd miss Hiei's fuckin' snappy remarks... but nothing is as it used to be. I need a fresh start. I can't be asked to stay at home while everyone else is out there protecting me from the whole stupid world. I can't be the person who sits at home. It just...kills me Koenma..." Kuwabara's voice dropped off and he dropped his head into his chest. After a beat, Kuwabara resumed his retreat and limped from Koenma's office. 

Koenma watched Kuwabara's limping form fade from view, unable to tear his eyes away long after Kuwabara was fully out of sight.

 

 


 

End of Chapter 1

Chapter Text

(just a doddle of what Kuwabara currently looks like, with hints to his damaged leg.)

 


 

 

It took Kuwabara less than two weeks to get moved.

It was rather amusing to be in the know, as Kuwabara's teacher suddenly came to him proclaiming he'd found a perfect school for Kuwabara to get his experience at. Kuwabara was happy to agree of course, and accept this chance to get "some good experience towards his chosen career." Only briefly did Kuwabara wonder how Koenma managed to get the idea in his teacher's head, that Kuwabara needed to go work at a school in Tokyo. Eventually, Kuwabara shrugged it off, it was an answer he'd never get anyway.

When Kuwabara got home and explained his plans however, his sister seemed hesitant. 

"It's...far Kazuma," Shizuru had said as she nervously stroked her hair. Her other arm rested around her waist, and her foot was tapping. She was making an effort not to touch Kuwabara, or place a protective grip on his shoulder.

She'd been making a real effort to stop hovering.

"Forty-five minutes really isn't that far...and forty-five is if I don't take the bullet train," Kuwabara said soothingly. He took a step forward and took her hand in both of his. Shizuru brought her free hand on top of his and looked down at Kuwabara's hands frowning. She would rather look at his hand than look him in the eye. In this way, she could hide her worry, and deep concern rather than burden him with it.

Kuwabara was truly grateful for the efforts Shizuru put out for him.

"Kazu..." She started to speak, but her words faltered and her mouth closed.

"Shizuru I know you're worried. But I'm better. I've been better for months. And I'm not rushing off into something dangerous...I'm just going to work at a school," Kuwabara lied with surprising ease. "I will call you-every day if you want!" Kuwabara promised squeezing Shizuru's hand. "It'll be good for me... to do something...right?"

Shizuru immediately looked at Kuwabara, and her hand flew to his shoulder giving it a squeeze, "Yes. Yes, of course, it's good for you to do this. I don't...don't want to ever hold you back. I just like knowing where you are, and that you're home at night. But...I won't be the reason you stay in a cage." Her voice grew stronger as she spoke, and then she embraced Kuwabara wrapping her brother in a strong hug.

"I'm so proud of my annoying little brother! You'll do great!"

Kuwabara held her in his arms, only feeling mildly guilty about not telling her the full truth.

Now, two weeks later, surrounded by white walls and brown boxes in his new apartment, that guilt resurfaced ten-fold. 

"I needed this," Kuwabara told himself as he tried not to think of his sister. "I didn't lie, I just didn't tell her everything." Kuwabara began to pace, guiltly twisting his hands together.

"I couldn't stay at home. I needed to leave. I need this. I need this," Kuwabara continued to mutter. But no matter what he said to himself that knot of guilt wasn't letting up. Shizuru had been so worried. She was good at acting like nothing was wrong, and that everything was okay. She had helped Kuwabara pack his things, and even padded Kuwabara's bank account so he could buy himself a couch or some other apartment necessity. All the while she'd dropped some comments about making sure he called his friends to let them know where he was.

Suddenly thinking of Yusuke, Kurama and Hiei sent another pang of guilt into Kuwabara's gut, and Kuwabara needed to sit down.

What would they do when they found out he'd moved away without a word sent to them?

Kuwabara walked to his bathroom and closed the lid of his toilet before taking a seat on the porcelain throne. Kuwabara did not have furniture yet, and the bathroom, for now, was the best place for him to sit. He would sit on the floor, but then his leg would act up, and getting up would be a pain. Kuwabara sighed, rubbing his knee as he looked around the small pale blue bathroom. The wall on his left had the vanity, and the mirror took up the rest of the room. Directly across was a pink tiled shower, and a suspiciously gray shower curtain.

"That's gotta change," Kuwabara mumbled, as he cringed to think how long that shower curtain had been there.

Kuwabara sighed and looked to his wrist examining the watch Koenma had given him. It was large, black and square. It had four little buttons along the face, and other than that was rather plain. One button was for the time, the second contacted Koenma, the third would allow Kuwabara to record sounds around him, and the fourth could play back the audio. 

Kuwabara had no idea which button was which.

Koenma had, of course, told him, but Kuwabara had forgotten the directions almost immediately. 

'Well...no time like the present,'  Kuwabara thought and proceeded to press and fiddle with his new gadget.

After two minutes, Koenma's hyper-concerned face popped up on the little black screen, "What?! What is it!?"

Kuwabara grinned, "Ah so that's what that button does!"

Koenma's face fell, "Really? REALLY? I wrote down what the buttons did for you!"

Kuwabara shrugged, "I haven't unpacked yet!"

Koenma sighed, dropping his head in his hands. He groaned audibly, Kuwabara chuckling at him smugly.

"I guess it's good you called...I feel I should warn you," Koenma grated, his voice ending on a high note. 

Kuwabara winced a sense of dread draping over his shoulders. "Warn me about what?"

As fate would have it, Kuwabara's question was immediately answered by the sound of someone pounding on his door. 

Kuwabara looked out through the bathroom entryway, and out towards his front door. And then he was looking back at the screen, glaring at Koenma who could also clearly hear the knocking. Koenma's face was twisted in a mix of shame, guilt, a little bit of amusement, and grim acceptance.

"What did you do?" Kuwabara hissed keeping his voice low, "Who is that?"

"I didn't do anything!" Koenma cried defensively, "You know how she is! She saw the open file I have for this case, saw your name...and she twisted the information out of me! She...maybe also got your new address too..."

As Koenma whined and tried to weasel himself out of any trouble Kuwabara might bestow on him, Botan's voice could be heard over everything, "Kuwabara! Kuwabara open this door! It's me! I've come to see you! Open the door Kuwabara!"

Kuwabara let his head drop into his chest, and he groaned. Koenma was still trying to explain himself from Kuwabara's watch and to exonerate all guilt from the situation, but Kuwabara wasn't having it. "I'll deal with you later," Kuwabara promised, before hanging up on Koenma, and returning his watch back to its incognito stare.

Bracing a hand on the bathroom sink, he hauled himself up, and trudged towards his door calling, "I'm coming Botan! Hold on, and quit shouting!"

"I'm not shouting!" Botan shouted from the other side of Kuwabara's front door.

The tall man bit his lip, but even that couldn't stop his smile. Kuwabara finally reached the door and swung it open. But he didn't even get a chance to see the hyper, and normally chatty grim reaper, as she was immediately barging in. Placing a hand on his chest Botan pushed Kuwabara back and then against a wall, the top of her bushy blue ponytail smacking him in the face and obscuring his vision. He just managed to press her hair away from his face, when Botan was calling for someone.

"Okay fellas, bring it in!"

In a bit of stunned awe, Kuwabara watched as what looked to be Ogres from Koenma's office (disguised as humans) began carrying large pieces of furniture into his apartment.

"Botan...what...?"

"I just found out what is going on here, and I must say I can't believe you just left! You should have talked to me, or waited! Genkai and Yukina didn't even know you left! We could have all helped you move! Yusuke, Kurama, and Hiei don't know either, and you know  Yusuke would have helped you move here! Also, why didn't you demand Koenma set you up properly?! If this is a mission then he needs to make sure you're comfortable in your new abode! Well, I gave Koenma a good tongue lashing, and when I get back I'll yell at him some more! Oh but, look Kuwabara! I got Koenma to donate old furniture from his offices! We have a couch, some nice sofa chairs, a dining set, even a few pieces of patio furniture for you! You'll be living-"

Kuwabara placed a hand over Botan's mouth, silencing the woman from her ramble. He stared at her, his head spinning as he tried to piece out everything she said. Looking into her pink eyes Kuwabara let out an exasperated sigh before he smiled, "...It's good to see you Botan."

Botan's pink eyes flooded with tears, and then the woman burst out crying before throwing her arms around Kuwabara and hugging him tightly around his neck. Kuwabara slipped an arm around Botan's waist, and picked the petite woman up, returning a strong hug.

"Kuwabara! How could you just leave and not say anything!" Botan sniffled.

"...I'm sorry Botan. I just..." Kuwabara fumbled for an excuse.

"We just treat you different," Botan answered, her voice nasely from her tears, "I know Kuwabara, I know. We're overprotective, and we hover, and I'm sorry for it all. No one is meaning to make you feel any different or upset you. It's all just been so stressful...and I just know, well at least for me, I can't stand the thought of you going somewhere and disappearing!"

Kuwabara held the crying woman tighter, the guilt he was feeling hanging around his neck like a noose. A shudder ran through him as Botan managed to describe what he was experiencing. She was very good at nailing certain problems on the head. "I should have said something. I'll call Genkai and Yukina. I'll explain what I'm doing and apologize. I'm really sorry."

Botan only clung tighter and continued to cry.

Kuwabara glanced up and saw the ogres had finished arranging the furniture. They now stood awkwardly around looking unsure of what to do next. Kuwabara used his head to gesture for them to go, and after a few nervous bows, the Ogres left. Kuwabara, with both arms securely around Botan's waist, half carried and half dragged Botan to the couch, and then spilled in a heap with her on the long and slightly used furniture. The pair lay in silence for a while, Kuwabara absentmindedly stroking her hair and back.

"I know you don't mean to treat me differently. I know no one means to. Part of it's my fault too... I'm different now as well," Kuwabara finally spoke, "And I love you guys. Really. But sometimes how much you all worry and care bothers me. And I just thought... you know this is a good chance for me to prove that you guys don't have to worry. That it all can go back to normal, like how it used to be. With just a few... minor adjustments."

Botan sniffed, and sat up, untangling herself from Kuwabara. The pair resettled on the couch without talking, both of them facing towards one another. Botan wiped her cheek and smiled wobbly at Kuwabara, who returned the grin. Kuwabara had matured over the years, his face getting stronger, and his body even taller. He'd gotten even bulkier over the years, and made for an imposing figure now, even if there was still something youthful about his crooked over-wide smile, and the way he fumbled with his words and hands.

But Botan...she still looked like the day when he first met her. Young and vibrant, and like she still belonged in high school.

Briefly, he wondered if that was to be the norm. To watch his friends remain ageless while he slowly changed.

"You know...you better not show up here too often. People might think I'm doing something inappropriate with a student!"

Botan guffawed and let out a snorting laugh, "Really Kuwabara! No one would think that!"

Kuwabara pulled Botan's cheeks and snickered, "Yeah they would. You're too babyfaced!"

The pair laughed together, Botan smacking Kuwabara's hands away from her face. The laughter was half forced, and out of tune with one another, but there was promise in their mingling chuckles. Relationships could be mended, an effort just needed to be made.

"I'm sorry Kuwabara. I didn't mean to come over here ranting and raving, and then cry and snot all over your shirt. I'm just very worried! This is your first ever solo mission, and Yusuke doesn't even know!"

Kuwabara shrugged, settling into the couch. "I mean...Yeah, I know. But it's not like I can't tell him when they all get back."

"Will you tell him?" Botan asked seriously.

Kuwabara sighed, "Yeah. Yeah, I will. Just...tell Koenma to grow some balls and make sure Urameshi doesn't come back down here to drag me back!"

Botan giggled, "He won't do that-"

"Please! Urameshi is a real mother hen!" Kuwabara snorted rolling his eyes.

Botan giggled, "He won't drag you back. He just might camp out on the floor of your apartment, and refuse to leave."

Kuwabara snorted, "Oh that's much better!"

"Have the boys contacted you at all?" Botan asked, her voice soft.

"Not too much," Kuwabara admitted, "A letter here or there, though the letter is normally a minimum of ten pages! But their last one was six weeks ago. They're really busy hunting down that human trafficker. It sounds like a horrible case. They've been finding a trail of dead humans and demons, destroyed villages, and enemies waiting for them. They're having a hard time even figuring out if this is a case of human trafficking or just outright cruelty towards humans and demons who got along."

Botan frowned as she listened to Kuwabara talk, "What do you mean?"

"Kurama suspects this isn't even a case of human trafficking. He thinks this is a group of people trying to sabotage the efforts of demons and humans living together. This is a plot to make the relationship between demon and humans strained again," Kuwabara answered with a grim shake of his head.

"Some demons already live in the human world, and quite peacefully! I just don't understand why people would do this!" Botan despaired, throwing a hand angrily in the air with a huff.

"There's no explaining why people or demons make these terrible decisions. Kurama says it's just plain hatred and racism. Stupid emotions that are as old as dirt, and just as hard to sweep away!" Kuwabara voiced with clear disgust. He let out a sigh glancing over to Botan, "Irony of all Ironies...the group that is killing the humans and demons who can get along is most likely a group comprised of human and demons."

"Disgusting!" Botan spat, crossing her arms across her waist.

"Mmm. Kurama, Hiei, and Urameshi are so busy. I get why Koenma, you, and even my sister want me to wait for them... but whose to say they'll be back in a month? What they're working on is important, and if I mention what I'm doing, even if I phrase it as just moving to another town, I fear they might just drop everything and come find me. They need to stay focused on their mission," Kuwabara let out a sigh. Clear adoration for his friends was written on his face, as well as longing.

He wished he was with them.

"What grade are you going to be working with?" Botan asked, suddenly changing the subject. Seeing the longing pained look on Kuwabara was something she hated the most. Whether he realized it or not, the longing was cut deep into the eyes. Kuwabara longed to be back in the old days with his friends. She hated to admit it, but Kuwabara was right. He needed this time away to not just build himself up, but prove he could do things on his own.

"Ninth grade... makes me nostalgic," Kuwabara said with an easy grin.

"Do you know where?" Botan pressed.

"It's just a school around the corner...want to see?" Kuwabara offered.

"Yeah, let's go! We can grab some lunch, and I want you to fill me in on exactly everything you'll be doing while you're here," Botan bubbled, standing up quickly and taking his arm.

"You said you already found out everything from Koenma!" Kuwabara pointed out, easing himself off the couch with her help.

"But I want to hear it from you! I'm making sure I know everrrrrrything!" She explained stretching out the last word in dramatic fashion.

Kuwabara rolled his eyes, and opened the door for her, "Alright, alright. If we run into anyone you're my cousin, got it?"

She snorted and stuck her lower lip out in a pout, but did not argue.

Quietly Kuwabara shut the door and led Botan towards the streets of the Juuban district.

 


 

"I'm llllaaaaatttteeee!" Usagi screeched as she tore out of her house, yellow streams of hair flying behind her, and a rather distressed Luna tucked under her arm.

"Usagi! I can't believe you slept in!" Luna hissed, claws sinking into the fabric of the teen's jacket.

"Well, you should have woken me!" Usagi snapped, staring straight ahead as she raced down the street, "Besides! Why is Rei having a meeting on Saturday!? Saturday's are meant for sleeping in!"

Luna sighed and rolled her eyes, bracing herself for the turbulent ride sure to come. Usagi, while a great and amazing Sailor Senshi, as well as a sweet and compassionate girl, was incredibly flakey when it came to time. Luna could scarcely believe that this girl was going to be Queen one day. Glancing at Usagi, Luna felt the blossoming of her deep affection stir, and without being able to help it began to let out a deep rumbly purr. No matter how silly Usagi was, Luna couldn't deny how happy she was able to see the Princess living a full and happy life.

It was as she thought this that Usagi tripped and fell face first into the ground, Luna just barely managing to jump away and land gracefully on a fire hydrant just before the girl's fall. Luna sighed and shook her head as Usagi began to wail.

'Despite all her faults, I'm glad my princess is happy,' Luna thought with a sigh.

"Hey is that-" Usagi's tears suddenly stopped as she sat straight up and stared across the street. Luna turned to look behind her, seeing a familiar sight of a petite person with bright blue hair, "Fish-eye?"

"No, it can't be. You said yourself Usagi that the Pegasus came-" Luna tried to dismiss Usagi's claim, but the blonde didn't seem to be listening.

Instead, the girl got to her knees, and stared across the street, her blue eyes dancing. Without warning, Usagi sprinted across the street despite Luna's shocked cry. Usagi reached out as she neared the person with the bright blue ponytail. Catching the person in a hug Usagi cried out, "Fish-eye! It's you, isn't it?!" The person in Usagi's arm stiffened and pulled away so they could turn.

"Um...I'm sorry. I think you've mistaken me for someone else..." The girl suggested nervously.

Now that Usagi looked at the girl, it clearly wasn't Fish-eye. There were a lot of similarities but this girls' eyes were bright and pink, and her face was just a bit rounder. When the gravity of Usagi's mistake hit her, the girl blushed from head to toe, and then repeatedly began to bow, "Oh I'm so sorry! You looked like... like an old friend! I'm so sorry to just grab you like that!"

The blue haired girl laughed waving a hand at Usagi, "No it's alright! No harm was done, you just startled me is all! My name is Botan!"

Usagi got back up and was about to give her name when she noticed a giant of a man standing behind Botan, watching the pair of girls with an amused look. He absolutely towered over the girls.

"Ah, a giraffe!" Usagi burst out, pointing at Kuwabara in fright and shock.

Botan looked behind her at the man who gave both of them a perplexed look. Botan then threw her head back and burst into loud laughter. 

"Hahaha a giraffe! Kuwabara, she called you a giraffe!"

"Well... it's better than being called a stupid ape!"

As Botan howled with laughter, the larger man seemed to accept Usagi's behavior, as if it was an almost typical occurrence.  The man smiled from the blue-haired girl and locked eyes with Usagi, turning his smile to her. His eyes crinkled pleasantly as he grinned at her, and a warm feeling of nostalgia swept over the blonde, bleeding the tension from her shoulders.

"I'm Kazuma Kuwabara, my cousin and I are just exploring the town. I just moved here not too long ago for work," the giant man explained.

Remembering that she hadn't yet introduced herself, Usagi exclaimed, "My name is Usagi Tsukino! I am really sorry-for everything! I can get a bit carried away!"

"Really, no trouble at all!" Botan said wheezily, wiping a tear from her eye.

"I've never seen someone so tall! Are you an American?" Usagi asked with wide eyes.

Kuwabara laughed, "No, no, though my mother was from the United Kingdom."

Botan's eyes darted quickly to Kuwabara, and she managed to hang on to her burst of surprise. She hadn't known that bit of information, but then again she'd never questioned about Kuwabara's parentage. It just felt normal to see Shizuru and Kuwabara always together. A nagging thought in the back of her head asked a soft question that would bother her later on her way home.

Where were Kuwabara's parents?

"Wow!!!" Usagi exclaimed, leaning back to express her surprise. "I wish my Friend Mako was here! She's so tall, it would do her good seeing someone taller than her!"

"There's nothing wrong with being tall, my sister is my height, and when I was younger she was taller than me!" Kuwabara proclaimed, pulling out his wallet. With a sense of pride, he showed a picture of his sister to Usagi, grinning as he showed the picture off.

"Wow, she really is!" Usagi squealed, leaning in animatedly to look at the image.

"Is this your kitty?" Botan's voice asked.

Usagi glanced back to Botan and saw that the girl was holding Luna in her arms, scratching her under her chin.

Grinning, Usagi burst, "Yes! That's Luna!"

Kuwabara immediately turned to see Luna and smiled, "Oh! What a good name for a cat! Her fur is like midnight!" He reached out and stroked Luna's cheek, the cat letting out the loudest purr Usagi had ever heard. Usagi had a feeling her purr was a result of his compliments to her fur color, and not commenting the crescent moon spot on her head. For some reason, Luna never liked Usagi calling it a crescent moon bald spot.

Botan handed Luna over, and Usagi was amused to see such a big man coo over a cat.

"Wow, you really like cats huh?" Usagi asked a giggle in her voice.

"Oh yeah," Kuwabara answered merrily cradling Luna in one arm, while he stroked Luna's ears and cheeks, "I love cats. I used to have a beautiful Calico..." His voice trailed off and his eyes flashed with pain. He didn't say any more on the matter, and Botan's hand went to his shoulder. Without saying further Usagi understood what had happened to Kuwabara's cat.

"Well... If I see you around again you can always pet Luna. And Maybe you can meet my friend Mina's cat!" Usagi chirped.

Kuwabara smiled, pressing his forehead to Luna's face, the cat eagerly nuzzling him in an over-affectionate manner, "Oh I'd like that very much. Thank you miss Tsukino!"

"We better go Kuwabara!" Botan piped up, "It's almost one in the afternoon!"

Usagi's stomach dropped and her hands flew to her face, "Oh my God! I am SOOOOOO late!! Rei will kill me!!" Usagi cried sprinting past Kuwabara and Botan. Luna hesitated, but she leaped from Kuwabara's arms and began pursuit of Usagi. The blonde, however, didn't get too far, before stopping in her run and turning back to Kuwabara. She smiled radiantly and waved at the taller man, "I hope you do great at your job Mr. Kuwabara! You're really nice! Bye-bye!"

And with that said, she was off, dashing down the road and out of sight.

"Well, she has a lot of energy!" Botan giggled.

Kuwabara grinned, "She sure was. If my students are half as energetic as her, I'll have a good time!"

Botan hooked her arm through Kuwabara's and tugged gently as him, "Well come on, let's get that lunch! And I want to hear about your mother too!"

Kuwabara smiled, happy to oblige Botan's request. After meeting the highly spirited blonde, Kuwabara suddenly felt his despair and guilt fall away. He had a feeling he was really going to like this town.

 

 


 

End of chapter 2

 

Chapter Text

Rei had been furious.

Usagi had made Rei mad before, but this time Rei was really mad. No matter what Usagi had tried to sputter, there was no appeasing the soldier who commanded fire. Rei grabbed Usagi by her ear and screamed until she was practically purple in the face, leaving Usagi trembling in her wake. And then after all that, threw Usagi outside and locked her out of the shrine. She then informed Usagi that she would have to sit outside and listen through the shoji.

Usagi sulked quietly to herself mumbling about Rei and her stupid rules, and short temper. Though if Usagi admitted it, being three hours late to a meeting was bad, even for her. Luna had remained outside with Usagi, choosing to curl up on the girl's lap, rather than go and join the meeting. Usagi stroked Luna's fur and sighed, "Rei's realllll mad."

"Well, when she's calmed down a bit, properly apologize and learn from your mistake," Luna instructed in a matter-of-fact tone, "You've got to take these meeting more seriously Usagi! I don't know how many times we have to tell you this!"

"You really liked that Kuwabara guy today huh?" Usagi said, completely ignoring what Luna had just said.

Luna stiffened, and her fur stood on end.

"Wh-What?" The cat sputtered arching her body and jumping from Usagi's lap.

The blonde blinked at Luna's sudden reaction, before giggling, "Calm down Luna! There's nothing wrong with it! I just mean, you really liked being held by that guy we met, Mr. Kuwabara! I've never heard you purr so loud!"

Luna's licked her paw and began to wash her face and smoothe down her disturbed fur, trying to hide her embarrassment, "Well yes...I... I guess I did really like him."

Usagi smiled and titled her head clearly waiting for Luna to continue. Luna peered at Usagi's eager expression and sighed. Her tail twitched with irritability, and with hesitation, she continued to talk, "Well. I guess... my instincts took over for a moment. I suddenly felt... as if I was a kitten again. It was very strange, but I was very happy."

"Like running into an old friend?" Usagi offered.

Luna stopped tidying herself to share a very serious look with the girl, "Yes... yes it was. Did you... feel the same?"

Usagi pursed her lips seeming to try and think over Luna's question. After a moment Usagi answered, "There was something nostalgic about him. He was easy to relax around."

The pair fell into a spell of silence, both considering the comfortable feeling they had gotten around their new acquaintance. 

"Maybe he's just got one of those really charismatic personalities!" Usagi finally announced, all smiles once again, "He was really tall and almost scary but the moment he talked you could tell he was a very nice person!"

"Perhaps," Luna mumbled. Frowning she turned a stern face to Usagi, "Please be careful around him next time. He may be nice and feel safe... but you never know."

Usagi reached out smoothing a thumb over Luna's forehead, "Don't worry Luna! Tokoyo is a big place! We probably won't run into him again! And if we do I'll be super careful!"

"Usagi!" Ami's soft voice interrupted the pair.

Both turned to look behind them to see Makoto and Amy standing behind the half-opened sliding doors. Ami and Makoto smiled at Usagi but gestured at the girl to keep quiet. Slipping outside, the pair of girls sat down next to the warrior of love and greeted her.

"Mina broke one of Rei's teapots, so she's getting chewed out right now!" Makoto explained grinning.

"We thought we'd explain what the meeting is about while she's distracted," Ami said, squeezing Usagi's hand. "You should try and be on time to these meetings..."

Usagi sighed and leaned heavily against Ami's shoulder, "Uggghhhh I knoooowww. My bed was just so comfortable. And I ran into this guy-"

"A guy?" Makoto interrupted, elbowing Usagi, "Don't you already have Mamoru!?"

"Oh no, no, no! This guy was old. Like in his twenties or something!" Usagi laughed waving Makoto's assumption away with a flick of her hand.

"Twenty isn't that old, Mamoru is eighteen!" Luna sighed, but her claim went unheard.

"It was just this nice older guy and his cousin. She was about our age. I thought..." Usagi twiddled her fingers together, and her shoulders drooped, "Well I really thought it was Fish-eye. And I was so happy to see him again I wound up hugging this girl by mistake. I really wanted... to thank him for his help after that last time..."

Makoto and Ami shared a look with each other. Usagi's empathy and compassion were one of Usagi's most charming features. Her good heart could draw anyone to her, but of course, there were times where her compassion could cause Usagi to get down. Usagi hated to be parted from anyone that she liked or was grateful to, even if she barely knew them. Both girls's pat Usagi's back, offering what comfort they could.

"Pegasus said he took them somewhere safe. I'm sure the Amazon Trio are doing fine," Makoto promised.

Usagi smiled and nodded, "Well... anyways I made myself even more late by getting distracted! But at least I got to meet two nice people out of it, and Luna really liked the man. You should have heard her purr!"

Luna's fur fluffed up again, and she let out a small irritated growl.

"Distractions aside, try to put an effort in showing up on time. Rei announced she sensed another evil presence," Amy claimed in a serious tone.

Usagi's head swiveled between the girls, and she looked at them with a golden brow arched, "Well...yeah. We're still fighting those people trying to take those dream mirrors!"

"No, no, no," Makoto sighed, "Another evil force, besides the monsters that have been showing up lately! Rei was meditating and she said she sensed something dark. She said it felt like a line of evil energy was looking for something."

"The mirrors? Pegasus?" Usagi asked as she worried her lower lip.

"Rei doesn't know what the power is after. She only sensed it while meditating. She's not sure if the power is even here yet, or if it's just approaching. And that's not all. Rei said just as she came out of her meditation she sensed another power. She said it felt like it was casting an energy over the city, like a net! She doesn't know if the second power is a threat either...she couldn't maintain a connection too long," Ami continued, pulling her small compact computer from her bag.

"You think you can trace the energies?" Luna asked taking a few steps towards the defender of Mercury.

Ami frowned and sighed, "Well I started to, and I could actually pick up on the second power Rei described. It was similar to her own, a strong psychic force. But as I tried to pinpoint the location," Ami held up her computer and opened the screen. The screen was black, and had a haze in the center of it, like a slight mist was on the screen, "my computer burned out. Pinpointing the power was too much for it..."

Luna frowned, and placed a paw on the computer, "Well Artemis and I can try to fix it, but if all else fails I'll make you another one. Two new energies..." Luna shook her head, worry dancing in her eyes, "Did Rei say anything else about the energies?"

"No, but she wants to do more meditating on the matter to see if she could learn anything about the new powers," Mako supplied.

"Could the second energy be good? Like a new scout?" Usagi asked placing her head on her folded hands.

"No... there shouldn't be," Luna dismissed, though she sounded unsure. "A line of evil energy... and a net-like energy surrounding the city...."

The small group fell into silence, all considering Rei's ominous announcement. A few minutes went by before Usagi abruptly stood up, "Well I'm going!" Her face was set sternly, and a serious look flashed in her blue eyes.

"Usagi?"

"Going where?"

Usagi's serious face broke into a grin, "I'm going to see Mamo-chan! Chibi-usa is with him today, and I can't have her hog him all to herself! Besides, if Rei won't let me do the meeting today, then there's no use sticking around! Bye!" And with that announced the girl raced off, her hair trailing yellow streams behind her.

Luna, Ami, and Makoto all sighed heavily.

"Ugh... that girl!" Luna sighed, "She doesn't take matters seriously enough!"

"I think she just prefers not to dwell," Ami suggested, smiling sweetly, "I really admire that side of Usagi."

"Our princess will always be charming, no matter how silly she is," Makoto agreed, smiling before glancing back at Rei's shrine. "We better get back inside and see if Mina's still standing!" Makoto suggested, sliding the shoji aside. Amy took one last look to where Usagi had run off too, and with a list little smile picked up Luna, and headed inside the shrine. Makoto followed after them, sliding the shoji shut behind her.

 


 

 

She was calling him.

That sing-song voice was whispering in his ear. His name over, and over again. The words were growing more and more muddled as the person spoke, and her voice seemed to climb higher and higher with each drawn out syllable.

"Kuwabara....Kuwabara...Kuwabara!"

He did not want to wake up and acknowledge the voice.

"Kuwabara! Kuwa-ku! Kuwabara! Kuuuuuwwwwaaaaa!"

Hie ears heart. The voice was too shrill. His throat was tight and dry. When was the last time he had water? Could he count backward and remember the days? If he opened his eyes he'd have to wake up. Wake up and face more pain. He didn't want that...

He felt like such a coward.

"Kuwabara!Kuwabara!Kuwabara!Kuwabara!Kuwbara!"

Something sharp dug into his leg, and his eyes snapped open.

"Please stop...Harumi...please," His voice was dry and rasping. He sounded so pathetic. Everything hurt, and the shame that washed over him caused tears to prickle in his eyes. He was so tired... A terrible child-like instinct flooded him and he wanted to go home. He just wanted to go home.

"There we are. Good, good, good, good, good! I need you nice and awake for the next part!"

A hand fell on his leg tracing his shin bone.

He closed his eyes.

The room was spinning. Spinning...spinning...

He was floating.

Or was he just slowly falling?

Kuwabara opened his eyes to see inky darkness all around him. He opened his mouth to speak, and only bubbles came out. He was sinking to the bottom of some endless sea. Kuwabara tried to look around himself, but he felt so sluggish. Tilting his head forward he could see a bright light, yards ahead of him, slowly growing dimmer as he fell deeper and deeper into the abyss. 

Would he drown?  Was this what he was doing now? Drowning?

Something disturbed the surface of the water and a shadow was speeding towards him.

It took shape, and soon Kuwabara recognized the desperate and angry face of his best friend, Yusuke Urameshi. Bubbles flooded out of his mouth as he appeared to be screaming as he swam down towards Kuwabara. His arm was outstretched as Yusuke was desperately swimming down and down. But Kuwabara was sinking away at a steady pace...Yusuke would not be able to close the distance.

He'll never make it.

"He'll never make it," A feminine voice rippled behind Kuwabara. Twisted arms with knives for fingers rose in a torrent behind Kuwabara. There was a dozen of the twisted black arms, all reaching slowly up and bending towards him. Kuwabara weakly glanced around at the long limbs. He looked back at Yusuke and felt a sharp pang twist inside him. He didn't want this to be the last time he ever saw Yusuke again. Why was it going to end like this? 

"Close your eyes,"  the feminine voice whispered, as the arms suddenly were above him. They were arching towards him, and at any moment they would tear him to shreds. The fingers made of knives would dive into him, and Kuwabara would have to see Yusuke's face twist in agony at the sight. "Close your eyes," the voice goaded again.

It would be easier.

But Kuwabara could not look away from Yusuke.

The hands lunged, and the world exploded into white light, the feminine voice screaming as the world was cut away by an intense light.

Kuwabara lay choking and gasping on white sand. He was soaked to the bone, and shudders ran through him as gasped for breath. A set of woman's hands gently cradled his face. Her touch soothed his soul and made a wet sob rip from his chest. She shushed him comfortingly, whispering words he could not hear. When he calmed, Kuwabara looked up, teeth chattering from the cold water still soaked against his skin. He was sure there was a woman before him, and that she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. 

He could not make out her face.

"Wake up...wake up. Don't linger here," The voice was as warm and soothing as her touch. Her tone was deeper, and not the shrill woman's voice from earlier. The tone of her voice soothed his aching soul.

Kuwabara closed his eyes and looked away from the woman, a deep sadness beginning to swell all around him. His head was pulled into her lap, and a long arm draped around Kuwabara, his pain ebbing away like a memory. "Wake up...Wake up and remember."

"Remember."

Kuwabara woke up from his dream with a choked gasp. Sitting straight up in his bed, he began to cough as he tried to catch his breath. It was normal for him to suffer nightmares at night. He had been dealing with them now for months. What was not normal was the last part of his dream. A woman in white, with a face he knew, but could not see saved him.

No one ever saved him in his nightmares, no matter how hard they tried.

Rubbing his throat, Kuwabara shifted so that he was on the edge of his bed. His chest was heaving, and he was still shaking from the nightmare he had just suffered. HIs memories mixed with his fears and gave him hell at night. What he would give to fall into a more peaceful sleep at night. So even if it has just been for a moment...Kuwabara was grateful for that mysterious woman who had woken him up. He couldn't explain why his nightmare had changed, but he was grateful for the reprieve.

With the hammering in his chest, somewhat calmer, he glanced at his alarm clock.

It was just a little past four in the morning. Rubbing a hand over his face he sighed, "Guess I'll have an early day..." Easing himself up, Kuwabara limped towards his bathroom trying to place his dream out of his mind as he readied himself for his first day of school. 

It was nice to be on the teaching end this time, rather than the receiving one.

 


 

The Principal of Juuban Municipal Junior High was a nice enough man, if not a little dull. Kuwabara had arrived to meet the man an hour before class started, as was requested to him. He spent a good chunk of that hour praising Kuwabara for choosing a teaching path and giving a rather long-winded speech about the pride he held in his school, and how he expected Kuwabara to help maintain that pride.

"No matter how long you are with us, Mr. Kuwabara, you must carry yourself with poise and respect. You are now a representative and model for these children who are our future! Never forget!" The principal droned, voice crisp and firm. He was leading Kuwabara through the halls of the middle school, pointing out various places Kuwabara needed to know about. Kuwabara nodded, "Yes sir."

The principal smiled, "Good, good. I should take you to meet the teacher who you will be assisting under. She's very excited to have you. She's quite a pretty woman, and single too, so remember! This is a school, not a place to fraternize."

Kuwabara felt his ears glow red, embarrassed from the principal's suggestion, "That won't be happening sir, I promise."

"See that you don't. And watch yourself. You've got the type of body that would draw a lot of attention from the teacher's here," The principal laughed, rounding the corner of the hallway.

Kuwabara had never felt so uncomfortable in his life.

At last, it seemed like they found their destination. The elderly man came to a stop in front of a plain blue door, and knocked upon it, briskly calling, "Miss Haruna! You in there?"

The door to a classroom opened, and a woman in a smart looking pink suit and with long brown hair that fell in waves was revealed She came just below Kuwabara's chest and comically whipped her head up to meet Kuwabara's eye, her mouth falling open.

"Haruna, this is Kazuma Kuwabara. He's the college student from near Mushiyori City. He'll be your Teacher's aide for the rest of this year," The principal explained, not seeming to notice Haruna's surprise.

The woman blinked and snapped her mouth closed with a click. Laughing nervously, she stepped back allowing the pair to enter the classroom.

The school was a little smaller and older than the one Kuwabara had attended, and to his own amusement, he had to duck slightly to enter the room.

Kuwabara introduced himself to the woman, who seemed rather flustered in Kuwabara's presence. Kuwabara hoped his height wasn't making her nervous. Flashing a sincere grin he said, "I hope that we can both get along, and I look forward to learning from under you."

Haruna flushed richly, and laughed, "I'm sure we'll get along great! The students are rambunctious, but all very good at heart. I'm sure you'll have no problems dealing with them."

"There is one thing I wanted to bring up," the Principal interjected, stroking his beard in a worried manner, "I noticed you have a limp. Is this a disability?"

Kuwabara tensed slightly, a bit uncomfortable to be asked about it out of the blue. Haruna's eyes darted from Kuwabara, to his leg, and then to the principal. She too was clearly a little uncomfortable about the sudden question.

"I was in an accident a year ago, and my leg hurts often. I shouldn't need any accommodations, though I limp on and off, and can be a bit slower when it comes to stairs, it really isn't that much of a hindrance," Kuwabara answered sitting up straighter. Inwardly, he was reminding himself to take slow breaths, and keep a pleasant nonchalant tone. He kept his hands flat on his upper thighs, resisting the urge to squeeze his left knee self-consciously.

"Hmmm," the principal grunted, nodding once, "I might suggest you let the class know about your leg. The students might see your limp as some sort of weakness to exploit, but if you talk to them about it like young adults, they will respect you for it."

"Yes sir, I'll take your suggestion to heart sir," Kuwabara answered. While a little uncomfortable with the suggestion, Kuwabara had to admit it was probably in his best interest to address his leg. No use trying to hide something that was in plain sight. Especially with teenagers.

"Good, good!" The principal said with a merry smile, "I'll leave you two to get acquainted, have a good first day Mr. Kuwabara!"

As soon as he was gone, with the door shut behind him, Haruna snorted, "What a busybody! I'm sorry if he came off as a rude, he can be very nosy!"

Kuwabara smiled, "It's alright. I might as well address the kids when they get here. No use hiding something they'll all see with their own eyes."

Haruna nodded, "Kids can be real little assholes sometimes, so it's best to just get it out! But don't do it if it makes you uncomfortable."

Kuwabara blinked in surprise at Haruna's language and then immediately burst into laughter. Grinning at the teacher he would be working under for the next several months he nodded, "Thank you Miss Haruna. I'll think seriously about what to say when I'm introduced to everyone."

Haruna smiled at Kuwabara, before gently guiding him to a desk that had been placed in the corner for him. It was small, but not as small as a student's desk. Still, Kuwabara imagined he'd look a little funny sitting behind it.

"I'm sorry for the awkward placement of your desk, but the classroom is a bit small. There's a nice desk in the teacher's offices waiting for you," Haruna said with an apologetic tone. Smiling she checked her wristwatch, and then chirped, "Students should be here in a little bit. I say just settle down for a little while, get comfortable. When they are all here I'll announce you and let you introduce yourself!"

"Right, thank you," Kuwabara said taking a seat and inspecting his desk while he waited.

Kuwabara didn't have a long wait before the very first student arrived. The students trickled in, all chatting and laughing with one another, some unaware of his presence, while others stared openly at him. Seeing their happy faces, or even the miserable faces, reminded him of the days of his youth. If he thought about it now he could see his friends now, Okubo, Sawamura, and Kirishima. Their laughing faces and mussed uniforms brought a warmth to his heart, even to this day. And if he remembered further he could see Yusuke.

His smile, his cheeky expression, and even his perfectly slicked back hair. Kuwabara would have given anything in those days to pound him into the pavement! Now, with Yusuke gone off on a dangerous mission with Kurama and Hiei, he honestly wanted nothing more to catch Yusuke in a hug. Hold him tight, and reassure himself that Yusuke was safe and still there.

Embarrassed by his own thoughts Kuwabara looked down at his hands, clearing his mind and letting out an anxious breath.

The last bell rang, and Miss Haruna stood before the class, "As you can tell, we have someone new with us today. He's traveled from far away to complete his college education, and will be this classroom's new T.A. I'll let him introduce himself, so please give him a warm welcome."

The students were still chattering until Kuwabara stood up. Audible gasps echoed around the room as Kuwabara rose to his full height. He walked to the front of the room, casually leaning against the desk, and smiled at the sea of faces in front of him, "Hello class. My name is Kazuma Kuwabara. I'm twenty-six years old, and I used to be the biggest punk at my school. Now I'm probably the tallest would-be teacher in the world!"

A few giggles broke out in the classroom amongst the girls, and some of the young men were even smiling. Kuwabara felt the anxiety in his stomach ebb away at the class' reaction, "I'm not sure too much what to say, except that I look forward to getting to know all of you. Hopefully, your hazing isn't too bad, because I may be big, but I'm delicate."

More students were laughing, and even Miss Haruna was having a good chuckle.

Pushing himself away from the desk Kuwabara continued, "I'm going to admit now, I have a bad leg, so you may see me limping around, but don't worry I'm okay. And you pranksters out there, don't think you can get away with messing with me. Even with my limp, if you run, I will catch you. But don't make me run, as I already said, I'm delicate!" He placed a hand on his chest, and raised his chin, twisting his face animatedly.

The students were all smiling, and openly laughing now. They clapped, and greeted Kuwabara by name, welcoming the young man to their school. Kuwabara grinned, feeling successful as all the students smiled and visibly relaxed. It seemed he was off to a good start.

As Kuwabara moved to allow Miss Haruna back to the front of the room, the classroom door burst open. Kuwabara tensed and felt his energy cackle over his fingers as he readied himself for some sort of attack. There was a loud crash, and then Kuwabara was looking down at a girl with blonde hair tied in two buns, with long streams trailing down her back. She groaned as she sat up, all eyes on her. Cracking open an eye she spotted Kuwabara, and with great enthusiasm pointed at him before crying, "It's the giraffe!"

The students howled with laughter.

"Usagi!" Miss Haruna shouted, her tone scalding. A dry eraser came flying over Kuwabara's shoulder and collided with Usagi's forehead, the girl crying out in pain and protest.

"Aaiiiee! Miss Haruna that really hurts!"

"How can you just go around calling someone a mean name! And on top of that, you're already late!!"

"I wasn't being mean!"

"You're going to stand out in the hall, and write an essay!"

"Ah, Miss Haruna!!!"

Kuwabara's lips trembled, and with a snort, he burst into loud amused laughter. He was suddenly overjoyed to think he'd be in the same class as the highly spirited girl he had met the other day. As he continued to laugh, having to turn away from the scene of Haruna scolding and yelling at Usagi, Kuwabara felt as if this was all a sign for better days ahead. He had nothing to worry about in town with such friendly easy-going people.

He would learn later, he was only half right.

 


 

End of chapter 3

 

Chapter Text

Kuwabara was finally sitting down to eat. It had been a long and interesting day...

He'd gotten to watch the bubbly girl he'd met the other day, laugh, cry, sleep, and stumble her way through the first half of the day. She seemed to be a poor student, with bad focus, and a carefree spirit. He absolutely adored her. When he was her age he had felt all the girls were leagues ahead of them. They never struggled or acted anything other than perfect.

Watching Usagi flounder through the day made Kuwabara feel...comforted. It was nice to see a girl struggle as much as he had when he was her age.

Despite the fun he was having, it was still work, and his first day was busy. The other teachers all seemed to want to meet him. The woman were especially helpful and were constantly checking on him. The men were patting his back, or slapping him on the chest and admiring his physical physique. They all wanted to know if he worked out, or if he knew a martial arts, and what sort of things he ate, and even if he could teach them to bulk up. The fact that he limped had also gotten around the staff, and people were doing their best to not bring it up or were asking him about it. Kuwabara had a hunch the Principal was to blame.

Now it was lunch time, and Kuwabara had finally managed to sneak away to enjoy the bento he had prepared for himself this morning. He'd found himself a nice place outside, under a shaded tree. As a student, he'd never been allowed to eat outside unless he was sneaking it, and now that he was a teacher, he could go anywhere he wanted to eat. There was something deeply satisfying about being allowed to do as he pleased now.

He'd just shoved a large amount of egg, daikon, and rice in his mouth when he heard a few whispering voices.

"...Yes, there he is!"

"He's eating! Perhaps we should come back later."

"No, no, no! Mako-chan you've got to meet him! He's taller than you! You gotta see up close!"

"Usagi..."

Kuwabara swallowed his mouthful and peeked behind him, seeing Usagi tugging her two friends near him. They were her classmates Ami Mizuno, the brightest girl in school, and Makoto Kino, the strongest girl in school. He waved at the girls, which made Usagi smile wide and tug at her friends harder. The pair of girls helplessly allowed Usagi to pull them along, and soon were standing before Kuwabara.

"Mr. Kuwabara! It's really cool to see you again!" Usagi chirped proudly.

"It's good to see you too Usagi! I had no idea I had run into one of my future students," Kuwabara laughed easily. He gestured to his seated position, "Would you girls like to sit with me while I eat?"

Usagi immediately sat down, looking back up at her friends with big grins. Ami and Makoto shrugged helplessly, and they too settled down on the grass. Kuwabara suppressed a chuckle, amused to see that Usagi seemed to be the ringleader of her little, "gang" of friends.

"This is Mako-chan!" Usagi said, hooking her arms around one of Makoto's arms, and tugging her close, "See? She's so tall!"

Makoto sighed, and Kuwabara caught the frown on her face. Kuwabara didn't understand why, but not all girls seemed to like their height.

"My sister is very tall too. Though I think you're much more graceful looking than she ever was," Kuwabara said politely smiling towards Makoto who blushed from the comment.

"I kind of hate it... I wish I was a little shorter so boys wouldn't seem so intimidated by me. Even girls sometimes seem to hesitate to come up to me. If I was shorter I would be more approachable," Makoto mumbled, surprised a little by her own honesty.

"You're as tall and as pretty as a model, so the girls are probably jealous. The boys should know better. If the height of a woman bothers them, then they are not men. A woman's height does not detract from her beauty or her self-worth, it only adds. You're young, and maybe this will not sound so comforting now, but things will be a little easier when you're older. When you're older, it will occur to these, "boys," that your height is something to be admired, not looked down on," Kuwabara said firmly.

Makoto smiled, a flush coloring her cheeks. She felt rather flattered by Kuwabara's kind words and even put at ease. She was still surprised that she had said something so honest to someone that she'd just met. But she had felt so relaxed around Kuwabara, her words had just spilled out.

"Besides, I would be much more intimidated by your martial art skills! The gym teacher, Mr. Harashi was telling me how good you were!" Kuwabara said with a lopsided grin.

"Yeah! Mako-chan can cut a brick in half with her hand!" Usagi burst, and then demonstrated by striking her hand through the air in demonstration.

Kuwabara smiled and then reached out, tilting Usagi's hand with his own, "You don't want to strike that way, you'd hurt yourself. You'd want to come down this way."

"Oh, so you have studied martial arts?" Ami piped up, jolting a little when Kuwabara looked at her.

Kuwabara threw a hand behind his head, and laughed, "Kinda? I'm not classically trained... not really. But I had some friends teach me a few things. And when I was about your age, I did also get trained a bit by a master. She really trained my friend, but I learned a few things from her."

"You must have done some fighting though! Your muscles are as big as my head!" Usagi pointed out.

Kuwabara chuckled, "I've always been tall and big, to be honest. But I do try to keep myself in good shape. When I was younger I did much crazier training routines. Now I tend to box on my downtime, or even do yoga." At the girl's gawking faces, Kuwabara laughed and explained, "Yoga's good for you."

The girls all seemed impressed, and Usagi smiled smugly. Clearly proud she had made her friends come over and visit with Kuwabara. As Kuwabara ate, the group talked about all sorts of things, falling into easy conversation. It was a rather enjoyable way to spend lunch. No one pried for too much information, the group just talked. Eventually, Kuwabara finished his food, and after checking his watch suggested, "We better get going. Lunch is over."

The girl's rose easy, but Kuwabara did not. He tried to rise and winced as his left leg shook, seeming to be unable to bear his weight. Sighing, he rolled onto his knees, and braced a hand on the tree, before managing to jump up. He swayed a bit, but Makoto caught his arm and steadied him. All three girls looked very concerned, and an awkward moment filled the air.

Kuwabara smiled, and pat the top of Makoto's head. He was almost a full head taller than her, "You're not too tall at all Makoto. You look like you could be my cute kid sister!"

The girls laughed, and Kuwabara joined them, the uneasy moment passing as they turned back towards the school.

 


 

When the day was out, many students had crowded around his desk. They were all still curious about the young teacher's assistant, and it seemed no amount of answers would satisfy them. Kuwabara laughed and managed to shoo most of them away with promises to meet them tomorrow. Scooping some papers up in his satchel, he made plans to stop by a noodle shop, and then go home and grade the quizzes Haruna had given him.

"Mr. Kuwabara!" Usagi called, standing in front of him.

"Ah hello Usagi, glad to be out for the day?"

She grinned and nodded enthusiastically, "Yes! But, I wanted to see if you would come with me and the girls to an arcade! You're new here so you need to know the best places to hang out!"

"I don't know if I should Usagi," Kuwabara answered truthfully, "I'm not sure if I should hang out too much with my students. And besides, aren't I just an old man? I'll cramp your style!"

"Using phrases like that will really make you old!" Usagi guffawed. She then waved a hand as if she could bat Kuwabara's fears away, "You should come! You can meet my other friends and my boyfriend, and there are games and food... really good food! The shakes are really good too!" Usagi leaned in, her eyes flashing as she went in for the kill, "Luna will be there. As well as my friend Mina's cat, and my little cousin's kitten Diana."

The tips of Kuwabara's ears got red, and his face looked very serious. He cleared his throat mumbling, "Well... I do love arcades..."

Usagi squealed delighted and tugged at Kuwabara, before looking back towards the door frame where Makoto and Ami were watching. "He said he'll come!" she cried, the other two blushing with embarrassment, and flashing her the thumbs up. As Kuwabara gathered his items, he wondered if Usagi normally roped people into following her with her upbeat personality.

After he gathered his things, he was quickly seized by his bag's strap and dragged outside. Kuwabara was soon led down the streets of Tokyo, the girls giving Kuwabara very rough directions and explanations about everything. He didn't think he'd actually retain any of the information they gave him, but he appreciated their efforts.

"And here it is!" Usagi cried swooping her arm in front of her as she came to a stop in front of a small building, "The Game Center Crown! Best arcade anywhere! Motoki works here, and his milkshakes are amazing!" the girl practically drooled as she explained the glory of the arcade. "He's also super cute to boot!"

Kuwabara snorted, "Didn't you mention, that you have a boyfriend?"

Usagi blushed and turned up her nose, "I do and he's the best, but I can still say Motoki's cute!"

Kuwabara chuckled before turning back to the little shop, instinctively comparing it to the large flashy ones from home. This one was a decent size, but with a simple blue and yellow sign, and clear glass windows. It was maybe half the size of the arcade he and his friends had visited, and far too clean. He smiled however not one to judge, "Can't wait to see the games you guys have!"

"Mrrooow!" A cat's voice called, catching the attention of the entire group.

Luna had appeared, and rather than go to Usagi, or Ami, had instead gone straight to Kuwabara. Her tail swished, and her pupils were wide a dilated as she seemed delighted to see Kuwabara. The man smiled and kneeled down to pick up the cat, whom he pet with great enthusiasm. "Ah, the pretty midnight kitty! Luna right?" Luna responded with a loud purr and a bright cheerful chirp.

Usagi nodded, a big grin on her face as she looked slyly at the girls. Ami and Makoto seemed to be surprised and amused by Luna's actions. Neither of them had ever seen the normally serious Luna behave so spryly before.

Kuwabara was still showering Luna with lots of attention when a girl with pink hair came charging out of the arcade.

"Usagi!" The girl chirped, her voice stern. Her round face was set in a pout, and she looked ready to start scolding the blonde when her eyes locked on to Kuwabara. Immediately, her mouth fell open, and she took a step closer to the door as she stared up at Kuwabara.

"Chibi-Usa this is a new teacher at my school. His name's Kuwabara," Usagi giggled, casually introducing Kuwabara to the little girl.

Chibi-Usa glanced at Usagi, and then back to Kuwabara. It didn't look like she could bring herself to say anything.

Kuwabara smiled as he sensed Chibi-usa's anxiety. He bowed deeply to the little girl, bringing his body as low as possible, "Well hello little Princess...I'm sorry did I surprise you? I hear from Usagi that I'm as tall as a giraffe."

Chibi-Usa smiled, relaxing a little as Kuwabara greeted her. She then sighed, "Did she call you that? I'm sorry Usagi has no manners."

"Hey!" Usagi protested, glaring daggers at the little girl, "I'm not the one standing still as a statue!"

 

 

Chibi-Usa glared briefly at Usagi, and then slowly released the door before taking a step forward, her head tilting up, and up as Kuwabara got back to his full height. She then curtsied before properly saying, "How do you do? I'm Chibi-Usa and it's a pleasure to meet you."

Kuwabara smiled wide, completely taken by the little girl's manners. "You're very polite. Just like a little princess! Well, little princess, I am a student teacher at Usagi's school. My name is Kazuma Kuwabara, and it's a pleasure to meet you too!"

Diana, who had been settled on Chibi-Usa's head, suddenly leaped aiming to land on some part of Kuwabara. Luckily, Kuwabara reached out and caught the kitten who had misjudged the distance. Now, holding both Luna and Diana, the big man grinned, "I could just die happy now! I've got two cats!"

All the girls laughed, and Chibi-Usa tugged on Kuwabara's pant leg, "If Diana likes you, you must be a good guy! I've never seen her get so excited! Come inside! Then you can meet Mina's cat, and hold three!"

Kuwabara was ushered in, the little girl taking charge in leading Kuwabara inside and towards the back. In the back of the arcade at a large booth sat three more people, two girls, and a young man. They all turned surprised at the odd procession that Chibi-Usa was leading. 

"What in the world?" Minako whispered, before watching in surprise as Artemis meowed at Kuwabara like he was an old friend. Rather abruptly, Artemis lept from Minako's shoulder and hurriedly walked to the tall copper-haired man. And then, with an impatience Minako had never seen from Artemis, scaled said man as if he was a scratching post, climbing all the way to the man's shoulder before pressing his face to Kuwabara's cheek and letting out a deep rumbling purr.

"What a sweet boy," The man said grinning delightedly.

"Rei! Mina! Mamo-chan!" Usagi greeting her remaining friends, "This is my new teacher! Mr. Kuwabara."

"Just a Teacher's aide actually. It's very nice to meet all of you," Kuwabara said politely, only able to dip his head in greeting. Artemis eventually slipped down into Kuwabara's arms, joining the cat cuddle party in Kuwabara's arms.

"I've never seen Artemis act that way!" Minako snorted, eyes dancing with amusement.

The group of people was all slowly introduced, pleasantries being exchanged easily. Rei was the only one of the group who did not join in on the eager conversation, but instead watched Kuwabara with a keen eye. Kuwabara was shown all sorts of games and introduced to the Sailor-V games with Mina and Usagi gushing about the lore. Kuwabara wowed the girls with his skills at the Paper-rock-scissors game, as well as his skill with the crane machines. He came away with about 12 stuffed animals, gifting a large flying horse to Chibi-Usa.

"It's a pegasus!" She explained when he commented on the doll.

The cats hung around Kuwabara, sticking close to his feet when Kuwabara eventually set them down.

After the arcade had been fully explored, Kuwabara was sitting in the booth, eating a burger and fries from the arcade. He and Mamoru were talking about school and college, with Kuwabara praising Mamoru for being such a good student.

"You'll have a much easier time at school then I did! I was a poor student and it was a real struggle for me to get through," Kuwabara lamented.

"But you've made it now, so all that hard work has paid off," Mamoru pointed out.

"Almost made it. I'm not going to get too excited now, or I might trip at the finish line!" Kuwabara joked.

As Mamoru and Kuwabara continued to talk, Rei had managed to corral the rest of the girls before whispering, "Does he not seem suspicious to you?"

The girls looked at Rei, before glancing at Kuwabara. Kuwabara was laughing, his orange curls sweeping the high cheekbones of his face. He had gotten mustard on his collar, and somehow on the tip of his nose. His new cat friends were also sitting as close as they could to the man, purring quite contently. 

"No," Usagi answered bluntly, "Not at all. Why? Are you suspicious of him?"

"Do you sense something?" Makoto asked more seriously, interrupting Usagi before she could go on.

"For a moment I felt... a wave of..." Rei took in a deep breath, "Something. Power? It's not... it didn't seem threatening but... there's something off about what I felt. It was there a moment, and gone in the next." The priestess was frowning in frustration as she glanced over at the tall man.

"Maybe you need to talk to him," Ami suggested, "Invite him to the shrine, we can all be there. Maybe at your shrine, you can get a better read on him."

Rei nodded, still frowning deeply, "Yes... maybe I will do that. I don't know what it is... but there's more than meets the eye about this Mr. Kuwabara."

Her ominous tone had the girls sharing nervous looks, before turning back to Kuwabara. He was leaned down letting Chibi-Usa wipe the mustard from his face. He was smiling so sincerely at Chibi-Usa that Usagi was suddenly angry.

"I don't think Mr. Kuwabara's bad at all," Usagi said her tone unexpectedly sharp.

Rei seemed surprised by Usagi's words but regarded Usagi with a serious expression, "Usagi..."

"I really don't think someone who could make everyone smile, or Luna happy, and smile so sincerely is bad. I'm sorry I just don't believe it," Usagi said strongly, despite the flush entering her cheeks. She was embarrassed to disagree so strongly over something, especially such a serious matter. Rei's feelings were never to be taken lightly, Usagi knew that, but there was something else that told her she could trust Kuwabara. And she just couldn't... stand the thought of ever having to be suspicious of the man.

Rei reached out and placed a gentle hand on Usagi's arm, "I'm not trying to upset you, but I did sense something." Rei smiled gently at her friend, "For everyone's safety we just need to be cautious. But you normally have a great instinct when it comes to people Usagi... I'll take your feelings seriously too. Understand, that I'm only worried because your safety comes first."

Usagi's eyes flooded with tears, and she sniffed as she threw her arms around Rei, giving the priestess a tight hug, "I'm sorry I missed your meeting last Saturday Rei!"

Rei sighed, but smiled as she returned Usagi's hug, "Yeah, yeah... try to do better next time okay?"

"Excuse me, girls," Kuwabara called from the booth, "I've got to go! I still have to grade papers! Thank you for showing me around today, I had a lot of fun. I'll see you tomorrow!"

The girls waved good-bye, Rei even joining in half-heartedly. Kuwabara waved one last time, before exiting, limping away from the building.

After he had gone, Chibi-Usa ran up to Usagi, excitedly holding a large stuffed rabbit for her, "Mr. Kuwabara said we could have most of the prizes. He only took one! Isn't he nice?"

Usagi smiled and accepted the rabbit. She tucked the toy under her arm, before pulling Chibi-Usa gently to her, and giving her a hug, "Yeah he's very nice."

"Which prize did he keep?" Minako asked as she approached the table where a pile of stuffed animals sat on one side. Minako picked up a stuffed cat, "I'm surprised he left the cat!"

"He took a blue penguin," Mamoru answered as he reached out taking Usagi's hand, tugging her towards the booth, "He said it reminded him of a friend."

"A blue Penguin?" Usagi giggled, eagerly draping herself next to her boyfriend, "That's a funny choice."

"You cats doing alright?" Makoto asked as she turned her attention to Luna, Artemis, and Diana, "You three went gaga over Mr. Kuwabara."

"He smells yummy, and feels nice," Diana explained simply, cuddling into her mother.

Luna sighed, "I don't know why but I felt years younger when I saw him."

"Ugh, it was like being under a trance!" Artemis admitted. HIs fur was fluffed up now that Kuwabara had left, clearly embarrassed over his display.

"The way you all acted, you'd think he was the walking embodiment of catnip!" Minako teased, poking Artemis' nose.

"Maybe that's what you're sensing," Usagi whispered to Rei with a giggle, her eyes twinkled mischievously as she continued, "You sensed an all mighty cat person!"

Rei's lips trembled as she suppressed a smile, "Luna, Artemis, and Diana reacting like they did, is proof that there's something fishy about him!"

"You mean he smells like fish?" Ami asked innocently.

All eyes turned to the genius of the group, before everyone burst out into loud laughter, all commending the normally quiet Ami for her joke.

"That's what it is!" Minako agreed, "He's a walking living fish, in human skin!"

"I didn't mean it that way," Ami protested, covering her mouth as giggles escaped her.

The group looked ready for further conversation, but screams interrupted their merry group. All heads snapped up, and the group could see people fleeing from something just outside their field of vision. The group all glanced at each other before Makoto gestured towards the side exit of the arcade. "We can transform out there, let's get going," Makoto whispered, heading quickly for the door.

As the girls and Mamoru raced outside to face whatever dangers lay outside, the discussion of the mysterious Kuwabara was dropped and forgotten, at least for the time being.

Real dangers were outside, the question of what dangers could be coming could wait.

 


 

Genkai folded her legs underneath herself and grimaced as her old bones creaked. She used the coffee table she was sitting by to help ease herself down, cursing softly as her hip popped painfully. Her aches and pains were getting worse now, but that was old age for you. She'd just gotten off the phone with Shizuru and now wanted to sit quietly and mull over some thoughts.

Kuwabara, a bright and gentle boy, had left without hardly saying a word. Moved away, as if he could expect to be forgotten about for the six months to the year he would be gone. She sighed, folding her hands beneath her chin. Kuwabara had been struggling ever since that encounter with the demoness, Harumi. It was completely understandable for Kuwabara to be having a hard time, but it sent a pang down her heart to think he had left town because he couldn't face everyone's sympathy and guilt anymore.

Botan had come by after her visit to his new place and said he was doing fine, and that he would call. And to Kuwabara's credit, he did actually call the next day and apologized for not saying goodbye, promising to be back soon at least for a visit. He'd explained to her that he was student teaching and that his College Professor had suggested some school in Tokyo. After the phone call, Genkai had felt uneasy, as if something wasn't being said. Now in the silence of her home, she wondered if she should be pressing Kuwabara for an answer. But then again, Kuwabara hadn't been the only one who seemed to be holding back.

"Botan seemed...nervous," Genkai remarked to herself. She shifted in her place, pressing a palm flat on the table, "I could get it out of her...She doesn't need much twisting."

"Genkai, I've made some tea!" Yukina's voice called from the kitchen, "Do you want a late dinner?"

Genkai looked over at the clock, checking the time. It was around seven in the evening. "My, my... the day just flew away. Dinner would be nice Yukina. But if you like we could go out and get something, no use for you cooking this late!"

Yukina materialized with a tray in hand. A small teapot and two stoneware cups were balanced on the tray. The snow maiden smiled, "I don't mind cooking for us. But if we go out, we could invite Shizuru. I doubt she's eaten yet."

Genkai smiled, "You're right, Shizuru most likely has forgotten. I'll give her a call,"

"I'll do it," Yukina piped up, hopping up faster than Genkai could. The older woman chuckled watching Yukina dash off towards the kitchen, headed for the phone.

Genkai was not sure if Yukina had realized it, but there was love blossoming in Yukina's heart. Genkai was certain, Yukina was developing feelings for Kuwabara's older sister. Genkai doubted Yukina understood the depth of her emotions, and the old psychic would not rush the girl for all the money in the world. Love was like a flower, and its petals should bloom slowly so that the full beauty of it could be appreciated. 

Thinking of Yukina led her back to more thoughts of Kuwabara. Just before the incident with Harumi, Kuwabara and Yukina had gone off somewhere, a date she assumed. But things were awkward when the pair left. When they returned, however, they were laughing and smiling. Kuwabara embraced Yukina before he left, but it was not an embrace of love. It was as if he was letting her go, and offering comfort. Yukina never explained fully what happened on the date, just that the pair had a chance to talk.

"I'm very lucky to have Kazuma as my friend," Yukina had said, her eyes shining, "He understands so much, especially about me. He knows more than I can, and is patient to help me understand. I am so grateful."

Genkai had not known what that conversation meant, but now as she watched Yukina stumble around Shizuru, she felt she finally understood.

'Did you know too Kuwabara? That Yukina's heart was beginning to beat for another?' Genkai mused a little sadly. Kuwabara had a heart of gold... it wouldn't surprise her if he'd set his feelings aside in order to give someone else happiness. He was brave and gentle like that...

"Genkai! There's a meteor shower!" Yukina called from the kitchen, "If we hurry to the porch we can watch it!"

Genkai smiled lifting herself from her seat, "Well now, a meteor shower shouldn't be missed... let me go get Puu."

Genkai made her way to the back room, her bedroom, and called for Puu. The Spirit beast had been keeping her company since Yusuke had left for the mission. After calling his name for the third time, Puu appeared lazily hovering from the corner of the room. He blinked sleepily at her, and Genkai held her arms out for the miniature Phoenix, who came and nestled in her arms.

"Lazy thing..." Genkai sighed, smiling affectionately at the odd creature.

With Puu in her arms, she joined Yukina outside and both looked up into the black sky. Streams of light were falling in shades of pale blue and white. Yukina gasped enjoying the beauty of the falling stars, Genkai quietly echoing small exclaims behind her. It was a beautiful sight.

An exceptionally large meteor began to fall, and Genkai looked at it suddenly unsettled.

"That... that one's close..." Yukina murmured her voice halting and tinged with anxiety.

In a trance the pair watched at the bright light arched in the sky, falling, falling, falling towards the forest that surrounded Genkai's shrine.

The large meteor had been a pale blue, but as it approached it shifted into white, red, gold... and then a strange black.

At the point it turned black, Genkai gave out a strangled gasp and placed her hand on her heart.

"Genkai!" Yukina cried catching the old woman as she began to double over. Puu's eyes were now wide and alert, and his body glowed with power.

"Something is coming!" Genkai rasped, as Puu exploded into his full phoenix form before them. He let out a cry that turned into a low growl, as he took bold steps in front of the two woman, fluffing up his wings in protection.

"A great evil..." Genkai rasped her skin feeling like it was on fire as a power exploded from all around. It was a strong force of power, stronger perhaps even than an S-class demon. The power also dripped with a malice, like the fierce rage of an evil spirit. Genkai's eye wildly flew around as she tried to catch her breath, and explain the power emanating from everywhere at once.

The ground shook as the meteor suddenly crashed in the middle of Genkai's forest, and the old woman fell to her knees, Yukina falling with her as everything shook.

"There...it's the meteor..." Genkai gasped clinging to Yukina's arm, hard enough to make the woman bruise.

"Genkai..." Yukina sputtered, clearly frightened by Puu and Genkai's reactions.

"Go and call Botan! Koenma! We're in great danger! Quickly!" Genkai ordered shoving Yukina away as she got back up to her feet, "Do as I say!" Genkai snapped joining Puu as the Phoenix growled, his head swiveling around in search of the threats. Yukina opened her mouth as if to protest, but it snapped shut as she turned and ran back towards the shrine. Genkai began to channel her power to her hands, blue light cackling like lightning. She could not use her Spirit Wave at full force, not since she had given most of her powers to Yusuke, but she could still channel a weaker version of it.

"A shield Puu... put up a shield," Genkai whispered as the blue bird continued to glance around, growling in a predatory like matter.

Instantly Puu's energy expanded outward in a protective force, and the two could only sit and wait as they waited for the source if the power to reveal itself.

They stood in silence for long minutes. Fire climbed the trees of Genkai's forest, slowly traveling from the direction of where the meteor had landed and outward. If it was left alone, a forest fire would be soon raging. Genkai felt her irritation climb as she spotted the flames, knowing the fire would draw attention. Human attention. Humans that would arrive here to help, and only get caught in the crossfire of the danger this energy brought. 

"Dammit," Genkai murmured, dropping her hands, her Spirit Wave dispersing. Striding forward to stand several feet in front of Puu, she formed several signs with her hands before pushing her palms forward towards the direction of the forest. Her eyes glowed with a blue light and she said a single word in an unknown language. Like a pulse, a stiff invisible energy expanded out from her hands sweeping leaves off the temple steps as it quickly swept towards the forest. In one great gust, Genkai's energy blew out the fire, pushing trees over in its great might.

With the fires out, Genkai had wasted a large majority of her spiritual energy.

"Damn," Genkai hissed, cursing her old age.

The sound of heavy footfalls against the earth caught Genkai's ears, and she took a step back. Setting her face in a grimace, she waited for whatever was to appear out of the darkness.

It was a man.

 

 

 Lyrae from my sailormoon/yyh crossover fic. Here is the baddy. Prince douchebag of the stars.
Quickposes used as ref!

 

 

His skin was ashen, and his form hulking. He was cloaked in black and gray furs from a creature Genkai did not recognize. His hair was golden and hung in large shaggy waves, giving the man an animalistic look. His face was long, and cheekbones high, his lips were parted and coated in red blood. A tongue darted over them lapping away the red substance and revealing sharpened teeth. The man stopped, yards away from Genkai, staring at her with cold yellow eyes.

"Where is Epsilon?" the man spoke, his words soft.

"I don't know of who you speak," Genkai answered cautiously, Puu growling behind her.

"Do not lie... to me," the man grated, his tone shifting from soft to threatening. He turned his head looking around the shrine and sniffed the air, "I can smell him. It is faint, but Epsilon has been here. Do not think you can hide him from me."

"I hide no one. Even if whoever you were looking for was here, how would I know what they look like? You barge into my territory, and demand for someone without even introducing yourself! Do you really think you can get any sort of answer, with that behavior?" Genkai snapped, glaring at the man.

The man responded by slamming his face into Puu's shield, the energy crackling from where he touched it. His nostrils flared, and he tilted his head before slowly smiling, "I am Lyrae. I am a ruler of four kingdoms, a ruler with great and mighty power who will conquer this planet without a moment's hesitation and in that same moment burn it to ashes. I am looking for my brother Epsilon... where have you hidden him away?!"

Genkai took in a deep steady breath, "We do not have anyone here by that name-"

In a swift movement, Lyrae brought both his hands up and tore the shield apart as if it was tissue paper. Puu gave out a startled cry as the effect seemed to cause him pain. Genkai backed up, falling into a fighting stance as the man, Lyrae approached. 

"I smell him in the air. In your hovel. On the woman, hiding inside your hut. On that creature behind you. On you. His scent lingers here. If he is not here, then he was here, and you will tell me where he's gone, or I will make you suffer for it," Lyrae seethed, eyes flashing.

Genkai thrust her hands forward releasing a quick burst of energy, that sent Lyrae skidding back. Puu took to the air and charged headlong into Lyrae who roared as the mighty bird collided with him. Though Lyrae was pushed back he wrapped his arms around Puu's neck, screaming as he pushed back against the massive bird.

Genkai watched tensely as Lyrae and Puu pushed against one another, the pair seemingly equally matched.

"I have not been imprisoned for a millennia, planning my retribution to be defeated by you peasants!" Lyrae spat, eyes glowing back, with a thin rim of gold burning around the darkness.

Genkai was brought to her knees as the gravity around her intensified.

She cried out in shock struggling to resist against the sudden force pushing her down. Puu was also brought hard to the ground, his advantage in height stripped from him as he was grounded. Lyrae gripped Puu harder by the neck, and with a sheer force of power hauled the Phoenix up in the air before smashing the bird hard back into the grown. With a final toss, he sent Puu crashing down the temple stairs, the stone steps cracking as Puu fell hard.

The blue spirit beast cried mournfully as the intensified gravity kept him down, blood trickling beneath his head. Lyrae trampled over Puu's tail feathers and ground his foot into his defeated enemy for good measure. Walking with a slow intense purpose, he approached Genkai and leered down at her. She met his gaze with a stubborn glare, grimacing as she tried to stand up and face him. 

"I commend you, old woman... you're still able to kneel," Lyrae praised in a condescending tone, "But end your pride here. Tell me what I want to know, and I will spare your life."

"Do me a favor and shut up. I won't be intimidated so easily!" Genkai growled, challenging him with her eyes.

"What a pity... for you," Lyrae drew his foot back preparing to kick Genkai full on in the face. Genkai turned her face so that her teeth wouldn't shatter with the kick, and Puu screeched in protest, struggling to get up, but unable to.

As his leg drew back, a green whip snapped around Lyrae's ankle and pulled hard. The man was yanked off his feet, and he fell hard before he was slammed into a tree. The gravitational force that had been keeping Genkai and Puu down instantly dissipated and both were able to raise their heads and look towards their savior.

"What do we have here?" Kurama asked his green eyes narrowed, as he curled his rose whip back to him. Hiei was at his left, hand on his sword, and eyes focused on the downed enemy. A bag that belonged to Yusuke was at Kurama's feet, while Yusuke himself was cradling Puu's head. Yusuke's hands glowed as he used his Spirit Wave to quickly heal his friend. Then with outraged eyes, he turned to glare at Lyrae, his mouth cut in a snarl.

Yusuke's eyes darted to Genkai, and he barked, "You okay old lady?"

"More annoyed than hurt," Genkai promised getting back to her feet. She rolled her neck side to side in a quick motion, popping her bones audibly as she did so. She then leaped high in the air, landing in front of Puu and joining her young saviors, "But I cant deny you boys have good timing."

"Indeed. We completed our mission," Kurama said eyes darting over Lyrae's body.

"Yeah. I blew up the bastard," Yusuke snarled, "Looks like I'm going to have to do it again!"

Lyrae managed to get back to his feet, shaking leaves from his hair. He blinked rapidly, before looking at the group. His eyes ghosted over everyone's faces, before landing squarely on Yusuke's. An odd expression came to Lyrae's face, before his body radiated in black and gold energy. "You..." he whispered staring at Yusuke.

Lyrae unexpectedly laughed, a wild gleeful expression twisting over his mouth. "I can't believe it's you!"

Yusuke's face twisted in disgust, "Don't look so happy buddy. I don't know who the fuck you are, and I'm going to kick your ass for messing with my friends!"

Lyrae laughed, sounding delighted, "I am truly blessed... to get a second chance. Truly..." Lyrae pointed his finger at Yusuke, "This time...this time. I will kill you." The black and gold energy twisted violently around Lyrae, and with a crack like lightning, the energy disappeared taking Lyrae with it.

For a moment everyone stood in stunned silence, unable to move or comment on what had just happened. Yukina's voice broke them from their silence as she came running towards the group, shouting Genkai's name.

"I'm fine Yukina... and you?" Genkai assured the maiden, reaching out and taking Yukina's hands.

"Yes! I was knocked to the floor by a strong force, but I can move now! I managed to reach Botan... What happened?" Yukina sputtered, eyes looking everywhere for answers.

"Good, I hope Botan gets here soon. We need a direct line to Koenma, somehow we've gotten ourselves in a heaping pile of shit!" Genkai sighed, her voice heated.

Yusuke was still glaring at the spot where Lyrae had been, his mind abuzz with questions. Who had that been? How did they know him? And where the hell was he now? Growling, he hooked an arm around Genkai, and then one around Puu, "Let's get inside. I think we need to be caught up on all this mess."

 


 

End chapter 4

 

Chapter Text

Yusuke, Kurama, and Hiei had wound up spending the night on Genkai's floor as they discussed the new threat. The whole night had been one big argument and debate. Who was that man? Where did he go? Why was he attacking? All questions were turned over, and over, only for no answers to be found. When Botan arrived, the poor grim reaper was also dragged into the mix, and the arguing increased.

It was around four in the morning when Genkai put her foot down and ordered everyone to sleep.

"We're upset, and wound up. This conversation is getting nowhere. Let's sleep. You three clearly need it!" Genkai shouted pointing an accusing finger at Yusuke, Kurama, and Hiei. "It's clear you haven't slept, maybe for days! And it's no wonder... you've been running around all of creation for months, trying to prevent a group of slavers from upsetting the balance of two words! We sleep now. Tomorrow we'll eat, and only after that will we try and figure this mess out again."

Yusuke opened his mouth to argue, but Genkai slapped her palm over his mouth and forced his head down on Puu's wing.

"Shut up brat and sleep! We'll discuss this tomorrow," Genkai ordered, before retiring to her own room before anyone could stop her.

Yusuke's nostrils flared, and he looked ready to explode, but after a moment he turned on his side swinging an arm around the large Phoenix's body. He grabbed Puu tight, nuzzling his face in Puu's feathers, Puu, in response to Yusuke's sudden grab, fluffed up with a pleased expression and let out a soft chirring sound, before tucking his long neck around Yusuke and closing his eyes. It seemed both man and beast fell asleep instantly. Taking a cue from Yusuke, everyone else found spots in the room and laid out for sleep. They were all clearly anxious about what had just transpired, but experience taught them Genkai's word was final.

Though the room was silent, and everyone did eventually drift off, the tension of the room was too high for anyone to get a real proper rest.

In the morning, Genkai woke early as she normally did. She did not feel any better awake, then she had when she'd gone to sleep. She sighed as she slowly got up, and began to get dressed. Today was not looking to be any easier than the one before. Once dressed, she checked on the group of people piled in her living room, counting the bodies to assure they were all there. Hiei in the far corner, Botan and Yukina on the couch, Kurama next to the coffee table... and Yusuke...?

"Dammit, where is that boy?" She muttered as she saw Puu, now back in his smaller form, sleeping alone on a pillow.

She turned for the kitchen, and as she entered, spotted Yusuke, up and getting out food for breakfast. It seemed that he had pulled out every bit of her food that could pass as a breakfast item. It would be far too much for everyone, but Genkai couldn't feel arsed to hinder him.

"Making a feast?" Genkai asked as she made her way to the sink, and proceeded to wash her hands.

Without missing a beat, or turning to look at Genkai, Yusuke answered, "You said we had to eat right? I'm making food."

"I also recall saying we needed to sleep. Did you?" Genkai asked pulling out a slap of uncut bacon from her fridge.

"...A little," Yusuke muttered.

"You need more... but I won't decline the help. I'm too old to do all the cooking... Just promise me you'll get some more rest later," Genkai muttered, pulling out a sharp knife.

"Fine, I promise," Yusuke swore grabbing a skillet from underneath the stove, "Just later. It's impossible to rest now. I can't."

As they worked together in the kitchen Genkai broke the silence by asking, "I don't want to launch into what happened last night, but I do want to know about the mission you were just on. We were all expecting you back much later... what happened?"

"Well we weren't really doing it all on our own," Yusuke explained flipping over a pile of eggs in the skillet, "Yomi had all his ears listening, and Mukuro had sent men out to help look for this group. Like Kurama thought, it really was human and demons working together to kill humans and make it look like some demon trafficking humans group. They were trying to damage what little good we'd managed to do in the last few years. Mukuro managed to find out where they all were, and Yomi actually snatched them all up. The ringleader was a bit tough, but I blasted his ass to Kingdom Come!"

Genkai nodded, smiling a little, "Well I'm glad you're back. We all missed you."

"How's Kuwabara?" Yusuke asked, his voice soft.

"Doing well. But there is something new to tell you, and no, it's not bad," Genkai answered sensing Yusuke snap his head towards her, "But breakfast first, and then we'll discuss everything."

Yusuke seemed ready to press for more information, but sighed and went back to the task at hand.

It took maybe an hour for them to all eat, and even longer for everyone to relax. Everyone's nerves were frayed, and it was hard for everyone to settle. But Genkai didn't want to discuss anything that had transpired until everyone could be level-headed. She herself was anxious to carry on as well, but she'd be damned if they had another screaming match. When it was just past eleven, and the group was seated in Genkai's living room, Genkai cleared her throat, "I think we can all talk with level heads now. Or we can at least try. I want to catch you boys up on things that have been happening here, then I want to hear what you have been dealing with in demon world... then we can discuss our guest from last night."

Hiei made a sound of irritation, from his place against the wall, "We haven't been gone for years, we don't have anything to catch up on? What news could we possibly learn?"

"Well, for instance, Kuwabara is gone," Botan said with a sigh at Hiei's temper.

She had chosen a poor choice of words, for Yusuke had slammed his palms hard on to Genkai's coffee table, cracking the wood, "WHAT? What do you mean gone?!"

Kurama was also sitting up straight, and Hiei was so shocked he'd dropped his aggressive stance, and now stood staring at Botan, shock clear on his face.

Botan paled, realizing her mistake, "N-no, it's not bad... Kuwabara is almost done with school. He is now in the phase of his degree where he has to go help students. So he moved to Tokyo to teach at a small school in the Juuban district."

All three demons let out soft relieved sighs.

"It's good to hear he's working hard," Kurama said smiling.

"He should be back in six months to a year," Genkai added, "He should be up for visitors-"

"Not now," Yusuke said quickly, drawing attention in the room. Yusuke's ears tinged red, and he looked away from everyone as he continued, "We shouldn't visit him right now. He's working, and now some fucker is here being a threat... Kuwabara might try to rush back. He doesn't need to give up anything else...he's already given up a lot."

Hiei and Kurama both nodded, seeming to agree. "He'll be safe wherever he is," Kurama agreed, "We can contact him when this is all done."

"No reason to tell him at all. We can take care of this new threat, and meet back up with Kuwabara when he's done doing whatever you humans do," Hiei added, crossing his arms and looking at the floor.

Botan's head was swiveling between her three returned friends in the room. Their conversation was startlingly similar to what Kuwabara had said when she'd gone to visit them, and the same sad lonely look was echoed in all their eyes.

"Oh, you boys are all so stupid!" Botan cried suddenly bursting into tears.

"Botan! What-"

"You're both worried about the same thing!" Botan choked, flinging her hands out in front of her with anger. "Kuwabara's not just teaching in Tokyo, he's up there spying for Koenma! And he said the same stupid thing about not wanting to tell you because you were all working so hard! You, idiots, are just trying to protect each other by keeping secrets-AND IT'S ALL SO STUPID!" Botan cried hysterically.

"What do you mean he's spying for Koenma?" Genkai asked before Yusuke could explode.

Botan wiped her teary face, "There has been odd sightings and weird energy spikes in Tokyo. Koenma wanted Kuwabara to investigate-"

"How could Koenma be so stupid!?" Yusuke roared, jumping to his feet.

"It's not a dangerous mission. Koenma is almost certain that there are forces working against bad-" Botan tried to explain.

But Yusuke was furious. His eyes flashed, and his cheeks flushed red. His fangs had grown, and his spiritual power climbed high as Yusuke shouted, "Anything could be dangerous! If whoever he's spying on catches wise to him, he could be in real fucking trouble! What gives Koenma the right to send Kuwabara anywhere? We don't fucking work for him anymore, and on top of that-Kuwabara never worked for him!"

"I hate to agree with Yusuke when he's screaming his head off, but I do," Hiei interrupted, "A spy mission is no laughing matter. And shouldn't he be concentrating on that school thing? How the hell can he do that if he's out trying to perform heroics?!"

"Let me explain-" Botan tried again but to no avail.

"What could possibly explain this action?!" Kurama interrupted, his own frustrations spilling out of him like boiling water from a kettle, "When we started our mission, two months ago, Kuwabara was still limping! I know for a fact that limp isn't gone, and his leg must still be hurting. Sending him on his own to investigate odd sightings and weird energy spikes? That should be a team effort!"

"Others were sent beforehand! There are risks, but Koenma and Kuwabara both agree, that Kuwabara is capable..." Botan stuttered trying to get a point, only to be interrupted further.

"Letting him go off on his own! I can't-" Yusuke let out a frustrated growl that exploded into a roar, "He should just be worrying about his goddamn school! He shouldn't worry about this shit anymore! Sending him alone, when his leg is the way it is! Koenma's just a fucking, selfish piece of-"

"Stop it! Stop it!" Yukina suddenly cried, her voice high and cracking as she jumped to her feet. "Kazuma hates being left behind! He hates it! He can't stand being on his own without you! He wanted to do this to prove that even if he stumbles, he can still keep up! He's not a bird you can keep in a cage!"

A shocked silence settled over the group. Shocked at their anger, their fear, and at Yukina's passionate reveal. 

"Did...Kuwabara say all this to you?" Kurama was the first to break the silence.

"No... not really," Yukina sniffled, wiping gems from her face that fell with a tinkling clatter, "Kazuma hated when you left for the makai tournament years ago. He was so proud though... so proud that he studied really hard. He said as long as he was trying his best he didn't feel like he was being left alone. But... but that's what you're doing now. You're trying to protect him, but you're just making him be on his own. And he hates it! He hates to feel like he's being left behind. I could see it clearly in his eyes last time we were together."

Yusuke balled his fists into his hands and cursed as he turned away. He walked to the wall behind him and pressed his forehead against it, sniffling suddenly, "I'm not trying to leave him alone. I can't stand all this! If I'd just gotten to him sooner I could have stopped Harumi-"

"No! Yusuke you can't blame yourself for that again," Genkai interrupted, her voice harsh but her eyes full of understanding and sympathy.

"We can't blame ourselves for Harumi's deeds," Kurama agreed, even as his tone sounded conflicted, "I... I understand wanting to. We all do, but we can't. Kuwabara would hate for us to do so."

Hiei declined to speak, though he turned his face away from the group, a quiet anger burning in his eyes as he remembered the past.

Yusuke let out a shaky breath but did not speak anymore, or turn from the wall. Eventually, Genkai sighed, "We will discuss more about Kuwabara's mission later. For now, let's set it aside... I want to hear more on what you three faced. Have you been injured, do you need to recover, etc, etc. I want to know what your condition is right now because we might be up for another fight."

"There's not much to explain other than what I already said. We caught the group, found their stupid fucking leader, and I blew him up," Yusuke muttered.

"We're really fine. We rested before we came back," Kurama assured Genkai.

Genkai snorted looking hard at Kurama's face, "Bullshit. You're all exhausted."

The three demons, while arriving at the nick of time last night, did not look in the best of health. Though no injuries could be seen, dark rings hung in heavy bags under all the boys' eyes. All three were paler, and their tempers short. No doubt the three had gone days without consistent sleep, maybe even weeks.

"The only complaint we could possibly have is fatigue, there is nothing wrong with us," Hiei growled defensively, gritting his teeth.

"That shittier than normal attitude proves my point. You're all exhausted. We need to try and see to that. You may not like it, but you all must get some rest. A day 's worth of rest at the very least. This Lyrae guy, seems the type to wait and formulate a plan, he had that arrogant piece of shit look about his eyes.  We should use his ego to our advantage, and rest. We can take shifts if it makes you all feel better, but after we're all well and recharged then we can come up with a plan," Genkai snipped, voice firm. She was having none of anyone's bullshit today!

"Wait?" Kurama repeated confusion in his eyes.

"It sounds foolish, but if we try and find Lyrae without thinking anything through, that will be even more foolish!" Genkai snorted, "You all look fried, and working with frayed ends is no good. We need rest, we need to plan...caution is our best step."

"So can we finally talk about this mystery visitor?" Hiei asked, his tone sharp and aggravated, his impatience clear.

Genkai sighed but nodded, "Yes. No use putting it off any longer. This will sound...crazy."

"Crazier than a kid getting hit by a car, dying, making friends with a grim reaper, and then coming back to life after making a deal with a demi-god?" Yusuke snorted, finally turning back around, and sliding down the wall, before crumpling into a seated position. His voice was tired, but he sounded less angry than before.

"No, it's not much crazier than that," Genkai answered with a half smile, "There was a meteor shower last night, and I'm pretty sure this man who calls himself Lyrae fell from the sky."

All eyes were now on Genkai, mouths slightly open as they squinted at her in blatant disbelief.

"I told you, it sounds crazy," she said simply with a shrug. "Last night as the stars fell, I felt a great evil pierced our atmosphere. And then a meteor crashed into the middle of the forest. Soon after that, he arrived. He had this strange ability. His eyes glowed black, and then I found myself barely able to move. Puu was also affected by it. He also clearly had a great amount of strength, as he took Puu head on. They appeared evenly matched."

Kurama made a sound in the back of his throat and shook his head, "That's not good. When we arrived we could sense something... but it didn't feel like demonic energy."

"Or human energy," Yusuke added.

"No... he was different. Very hard to read," Genkai agreed. She rubbed her eyes, before jolting, and straightening back up, "He also gave some other information, his name of course, Lyrae. He said he'd been sealed away, no he said he'd been imprisoned for millennia," Genkai hastily corrected herself, wanting to remember everything she'd heard him say, "He was also after someone. Epsilon. He said he could smell Epsilon here. On me, on Puu, on Yukina...he thinks we're giving him sanctuary."

"Sounds like we're dealing with a basket case," Hiei snorted, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Could...Yusuke be Epsilon?" Kurama suggested as he titled his head in thought.

"Yusuke?" Botan looked over at the red-head puzzled.

"Yes... The man acted as if he knew Yusuke," Kurama explained.

"Yeah. Said he was happy to get a second chance at me. Said he was blessed even!" Yusuke snorted as he recalled Lyrae's delighted face.

"A case of mistaken identity? He thinks you're Epsilon?" Botan questioned, pointing at Yusuke who shrugged in response.

"It's a theory..." Genkai sighed tapping her fingers against her chin, "And it's not a bad one. Yusuke has been here, been near all of us. And he left quite peacefully when he saw you..."

"He still threatened to kill me," Yusuke pointed out.

Genkai nodded, "But he didn't though. He didn't kill you... he just left. Which was a lot calmer than how he had been before you guys showed up and prevented him from caving my head in." She glanced over at Yusuke and studied his face. "This could be a case of mistaken identity..."

"We could run the name Epsilon by Koenma. And mention Lyrae. Perhaps he can give us more information," Kurama suggested.

"That's exactly what we should do. Two of you can go, while the rest of us get some sleep. We need to be prepared for his next attack," Genkai declared, nodding along with Kurama.

"I'll go," Yusuke said quickly, rising to his feet.

"Yusuke," Kurama began, clearly getting ready to protest.

"I'll rest after," Yusuke snapped, voice firm, "I need to talk to Koenma. I can't sit here and take a nap!"

"I'll take you," Botan sighed, "but you do have to come back and rest. Genkai is right... you three are exhausted."

Hiei ignored Botan but turned to head out the shrine door, Yusuke following in step. Kurama sighed and shook his head, pressing both palms into his eyes. "I am tired...I will rest. I need a clear head," Kurama sighed. His insides twisted against the thought of sleeping when there was still danger all around, but logically he needed to rest. He couldn't plan or even concentrate if he was this exhausted. Genkai placed a hand on Kurama's shoulder, "Rest, and then force your stupid friends to do the same alright?"

Kurama smiled and weakly nodded to Genkai, no longer able or willing to fight his exhaustion.

As he got up to retire to a spare bedroom, he turned to Botan, "Hey... make sure Yusuke doesn't punch anyone in the face."

 


 

The first thing Yusuke did when he saw Koenma, was punch him square in the face.

"YUSUKE!" Botan cried appalled, grabbing the young man's arm.

Koenma was collapsed against his desk, holding his bruised cheek, and sucking on his split lip, "It's fine... he held back."

"I did," Yusuke admitted, words steely as he glared daggers at Koenma, "Because as angry as I am that you sent Kuwabara somewhere, alone... I know that he wanted to go. And I just... you're lucky," Yusuke growled, "Because if you were anyone else I'd think you were playing on Kuwabara's emotions to get a favor!"

" You know I would never," Koenma snarled, spitting blood as he talked. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve as he steadied himself against his desk, "He wanted to go, he really did." Koenma dropped his hand from his face so that he could look Yusuke's gaze dead on. "I didn't send him to do anything fool-hardy, or anything that will put him in danger. I had sent teams out to investigate this earlier. For months even! They did encounter some danger, but it was all because they tried to approach the danger. He's not to do that, Kuwabara's just there to listen and learn about a few people of interest. He's to call me at the first sign of trouble. It's been days now and all he's done is taught at a school, and listened to rumors."

"I still can't believe you sent him somewhere-even for a small mission-without telling m-us!" Yusuke shouted, quickly catching himself.

"Are you his friend, or his jailor?" Koenma asked, his words icy.

"What?!" Yusuke snapped, shaking Botan off and taking a step closer towards Koenma.

"A cage of love is still a cage, and we all had him locked up tight in it! If we want Kuwabara to recover, physically and mentally, we cant hover over his shoulder. He doesn't want to live that way!" Koenma boldly stated, staring straight back at the Mazoku's flashing eyes.

The room was tense, with Hiei baring as a quiet witness. His stance was aggressive, and he clearly was on Yusuke's side, but he made no motion to attack the demi-god.

"Stop! Stop! Stop! Please!" Botan sobbed, breaking between Yusuke and Koenma, throwing her arms around Koenma protectively, "Please don't hurt Koenma anymore! Please stop fighting! What good is attacking each other doing?!"

Koenma seemed startled, and his arms immediately wrapped around the woman in comfort, "Botan..."

Yusuke let out a hot breath and unclenched his fists. He looked at Botan's tightly closed eyes and tear ravaged face, and felt a sharp stab of guilt. Taking a slow breath Yusuke muttered, "I don't know what's worse. Hating that Kuwabara's alone, or knowing that you're fucking right." Yusuke turned from the pair, and raked a hand through his hair, mussing it as he did so.

Hiei reached out and touched Yusuke's arm, offering silent words of comfort.

"I care about Kuwabara too," Koenma said to Yusuke's retreating back, "I wouldn't put him in danger either. I promise... this is something he can handle. Believe me. Believe in him."

Yusuke sighed, turning back to face Koenma, "I'm not apologizing for punching you in the face, I still owed you a punch, but I'm done. He's gone... a decision he made his own. I'll stop... I'll stop throwing a tantrum about it. Botan... please stop crying."

"You boys!" She sobbed in a watery voice, "So stupid! All of you!"

"I know," Yusuke sighed, half smiling, "You've already said that before."

"Well I really, really mean it! You're all stupid!" She shrieked, her high-pitched squeak and angry wet face coming off as rather comical. She had an iron grip around Koenma's waist, and her cheek was flattened against his chest. Koenma just smiled helplessly, keeping Botan in a loose comforting embrace.

"Next time we see Kuwabara... we'll work this shit out. Promise," Yusuke said.

"Now that that's done, we have a few questions," Hiei finally spoke.

"It's about last night right?" Koenma asked, "Botan called and roughly explained it to me. Some guy attacked Genkai's shrine."

"Yeah, some weirdo that fell from outer space!" Yusuke snorted incredulously.

"What?" Koenma gasped, his face twisting in confusion.

"Genkai and Yukina claim that after a meteor shower, that one of those meteors fell in the forest. Then a man calling himself Lyrae appeared and attacked," Hiei explained.

"They're not making it up either since we sent that bastard flying! He was looking for someone called Epsilon," Yusuke added, "You ever hear those names before?"

Koenma's lips pressed into a thin flat line, and with some reluctance, he released Botan. He gave her shoulders a reassuring squeeze before heading to his desk and pulling a thick book from under a stack of papers. "I really feel like I have heard those names before. But not...not recently," Koenma murmured, flipping through the pages of the book. "I've heard the names... from back when my father was in charge. Back when I was a child, an actual child," Koenma gave Yusuke a sharp look, and Yusuke closed his mouth, disappointed he'd missed a chance for a snarky joke.

"Do we need to look through your father's old files?" Botan asked, her voice thick, but her eyes finally dry.

"Yes I think so... it would be in the specialty cases. I know that actually doesn't narrow it down too much, but I remember my father panicking. He kept saying the name Epsilon over and over, but there was another name too," Koenma's voice fluctuated in volume as he spoke. He was already working on the task Yusuke had asked of him, and it seemed his focus was already divided in two.

"Do you remember it?" Yusuke asked, approaching Koenma's desk, and trying to peak at the book Koenma was flipping through.

"No. I was younger then, much, much younger!" Koenma sighed, "I''m surprised I even remember the name! But... I dunno. I think I have vague memories of my dad in a panic about something. It had to do with... a dispute or jurisdiction."

"Juri-what?" Yusuke cocked an eyebrow.

"The right to decide if you have legal judgment," Hiei answered joining Yusuke's side, "My guess is something happened, and Koenma's father was trying not to deal with it. Or he wanted to stick his nose in it and had no right to."

"Sounds like my dad," Koenma sighed. He set the book down, "It will take a while for me to go through all this... but I can promise I'll contact you all when I find out anything." Koenma looked Yusuke in the eyes, and frowned, "You should go back to Genkai's get some sleep. You just finished a mission. Rest up while I work on this."

Yusuke let out a disgruntled noise, and rolled his eyes, "You sound like Genkai."

"Then you really should take the advice. Is she ever wrong?" Koenma asked with a smug smile.

"What about Kuwabara," Hiei suddenly interjected, "Should we let him know about this?"

"Yes!" Botan cried, exasperated that the subject was being brought up again.

"I don't know," Yusuke said slowly. At Botan's seething look, Yusuke held up a hand, "Here me out. I'm not speaking out of concern... not completely. Koenma already has Kuwabara on another assignment, and on top of that, he's in Tokyo for school. What good is it to let him know? As far as he knows, we're all supposed to be gone still."

Koenma folded his hands together and rest his chin on top of his laced fingers. He was frowning, "I... I don't know what to say here. If we're being attacked here, I don't think cluing Kuwabara into it all is a good idea. He'd be stressed out, and he is supposed to be gathering information over there. If he can't concentrate he can't do any good, and if he gets too concerned he'll drop everything and come back. If he does that, he risks his degree!"

"But not telling him isn't fair!" Botan cried, "I convinced him to tell all of you," Botan gestured to Hiei and Yusuke with a wave,"what he was doing when you all got back. If he knew you were back, he would have told you where he was!"

"Would he have told us he was on a mission?" Hiei asked, his tone suggesting he already knew the answer.

Botan's face flushed with anger, "I don't know. I can't fully speak to that, but he was going to contact you as soon as he was informed you returned! You can't not say anything! It's not fair! When he finds out because let me remind you--he's a clairvoyant--he'll be heartbroken!" Botan waved her arms becoming more exaggerated as her anger grew, "If you do this to him... it may break all his trust in us."

There was a long silence as the three men in the room took in Botan's words.

Koenma pulled his pacifier from his mouth and set it on the table, "This is very complicated. I am not trying to dismiss Kuwabara's feelings, or him. Kuwabara is a strong ally, no matter what state he is in now. But... I still don't think telling him what is going on will be beneficial! He can't quit what he's doing now. We could ruin his educational career. We're not in a good spot here."

"Then we tell him we're home," Hiei declared, silencing the squabbling.

"We tell him we're here. He was going to contact us when we came back and tell us where he is," Hiei continued, "If he tells us what mission he's on... then we tell him what we're doing. Quid pro quo."

Yusuke sighed, "I really don't want to hurt Kuwabara. That's the last thing I want. But I think a half-truth is all we can do."

Botan sighed unable to argue against it. Kuwabara had made no real promises to tell Yusuke and the others about his mission. Botan wasn't sure if she could fault Hiei and Yusuke for keeping their new mission a secret.

"We'll call him, but after some rest. I'm starting to feel how goddamn bone tired I am!" Yusuke moaned, rubbing a knot between his neck and shoulder. This whole situation was really starting to wind him up.

Hiei turned from Koenma making his way towards the exit. Yusuke sighed watching Hiei walk away. He turned to Koenma and shrugged, "Get back to us as soon as you can."

Koenma nodded, "I will. I promise."

Hiei slipped out without a sight. Yusuke wasn't sure if Hiei would actually go to Genkai's or instead go and see Mukuro. It was a tough call. Hiei wasn't one to follow orders or instructions, but since the incident with Harumi, Hiei tended to hang around more often. Yusuke had just made it to the door when he heard Koenma say a soft word, "Serenity."

Yusuke blinked and turned back to Koenma, "Koenma?"

Koenma was sitting still, and staring blankly at the book in his hands. When Yusuke said his name again, Koenma finally looked up. He blinked before shaking his head and waving a hand dismissively, "It's not anything, not really. I just remembered another name I heard a lot of. It was being said alongside Epsilon and Lyrae. Serenity."

"Serenity?" Yusuke repeated.

Koenma nodded absently, going back to his book. Botan walked over to the second desk in Koenma room and began to look under a stack of papers. Clearly, she would be staying behind to help her boss. Yusuke watched the scene for a moment longer, confused at the second name Koenma had said.

"Serenity."

 

 

 

End of Chapter 5

 

Chapter Text

Days passed uneventfully for Kuwabara.  

He went to school, worked, took lunch, worked, hung out with Usagi and her friends, went home, graded papers, and went to bed. This cycle happened every day on repeat, and soon Kuwabara’s first week was under his belt, followed by the next, and then the next. Over half a month gone, and nothing to show for it.

He had not yet seen any monsters, though he had heard many stories about odd happenings. He had not seen any girls in sailor suits either, though he had been told they called themselves the sailor scouts. There were so many stories and leads to follow, Kuwabara wasn't sure if he really was gathering any useful information. However, most of the people who told him about being attacked by monsters were completely confident in their saviors, someone called Sailor Moon and her sailor scouts.

Feeling the scouts were his only real lead, he had asked people about Sailor Moon.

“She’s an angel!” An old woman waiting for the bus had told him.

“She’s a superhero that can use magic!” A shopkeeper had said.

“She’s a vigilante!” A cop had grunted.

“She’s the coolest!” Usagi had declared.

Kuwabara felt he hadn’t learned much about this hero and her friends. The only thing he knew for sure, was that she existed. There were newspaper clippings, t.v. shots, photos, and eyewitnesses, but there was something blocking Kuwabara from understanding her face. Kuwabara had a hunch that there was a mystical force around the girl preventing her from being identified.

Yes, there were photos of her face, alongside her friends, and their faces. He should be able to at least draw clues from the images, but no. He could see her face in the photo, and then when he looked away the memory of that face was gone. Hair color, eye color, skin color-all gone...

It was really annoying.

While he was frustrated that he didn’t feel like he was doing well in the investigation, he was happy to be teaching at the Juuban Middle school.

He enjoyed the staff, and the students, and had a surprising friendship with Usagi and her group. He had been worried about it at first, especially after he gave her a detention for throwing a paper in class, but Usagi didn’t resent him for anything. She was happy and chipper and made Kuwabara feel at peace. Her friends were charming and impressed him with their variety of skills. From Ami's gentle intelligent remarks to Makoto shyly talking to him about her height and the comfort, she got from his encouragement. Kuwabara felt he couldn't feel fonder of his precious students, and that he could really help guide them as they continued to grow.

Working with the students had made him happy in a way, that he hadn't felt in a long time...

It was Sunday, and tomorrow would be the start of another week. He was walking around town to try and think over what little information he actually did have. Though as he continued to walk and stress over his thoughts, he was starting to think he really didn't have anything at all. As frustrating as it was, he still only had the information he had started with:

That a group of superhero girls was fighting monsters.

But why?

“Kuwabara! Kuwabara!” A small familiar voice called out to him.

Stopping in his tracks he turned around, before spotting the source of the shouting. “Ah! Chibi-Usa! How are you?” 

He'd apparently wandered into a park without really noticing it. But now seeing Usagi's "little shadow," he was quite pleased. He was very fond of Chibi-Usa, and would chat with every chance he got. He enjoyed her precocious nature and was astounded by just how intelligent the little girl was. If he didn't know better he'd say she was one hundred years old!

The girl was waving to him from atop a merry go round, other children staring wide-eyed at him as he approached.

“Hello, Little Princess! What are you doing today?” Kuwabara asked smiling, "I see Diana isn't with you."

Chibi-Usa giggled, "She's with Luna right now. And I'm just playing at the park, what are you doing?" the girl asked, smiling brightly as she looked up at Kuwabara.

“It’s Sunday so I thought I’d walk around. And seems I found myself here... Are you alone today?” Kuwabara asked noting he didn’t see anyone around keeping an eye on the girl.

“No, I’m with Mamo-chan and Usagi!” Chibi-Usa hopped off the merry-go-round and reached up. Kuwabara offered his hand, engulfing the little girl’s hand in his. The girl grinned, “I’ll take you to them!” With a gentle tug, she began leading Kuwabara away from the playground, and further into the park. Immediately she began setting into a story, telling Kuwabara about all sorts of things she had done, either at school or at home. He loved listening to her little chatter, she was just as excitable as Usagi was.

Kuwabara held the small girl’s hand and listened to her talk to him. She talked about school, her friends, about Usagi hogging cookies, about cats, and her dreams to be a well-respected lady. Kuwabara just listened, letting her talk to him as much as she wanted. Walking with her and listening to her chat, made him feel as if she was his little sister. It made this protective, warm feeling want to explode out of him every time he saw her.

He wondered if Shizuru ever felt like this when he had been small.

“Can I ask you…something?” Chibi-Usa’s tone changed, and her words came slow and soft.

Kuwabara smiled, “Yeah, sure Little Princess. Anything.”

“Why do you limp?”

Kuwabara felt a pang in his chest, and for a moment wished he had not said, ‘anything’. Slowing to a stop, he glanced down at Chibi-Usa’s face, seeing it pinched with concern. Smiling at her, he playfully tweaked the buns on top of her head. “Don’t make that face!” He implored softly, “no need to be scared or worried. You just asked a question… no harm.”

Kuwabara gently tweaked her cheeks, the girl smiling shyly and turning her face away. Standing straight he put his hands in his pockets and mulled over what to say. He hesitated before he finally spoke, “I can’t tell you everything, Little Princess… it’s a rough story. And I don’t think it would do you good to know it all. Do you understand what I mean?”

“Um…maybe?” Chibi-Usa answered, folding her arms behind her back. Her posture seemed nervous, and Kuwabara began to feel it himself. He had never tried to explain a tough subject to a kid before, but if he wanted to be a teacher, he supposed he needed to become accustomed to it. Now was a good test, and if he couldn't do it with a child he cared about and knew, maybe he wouldn't be able to do it at all.

“With anything that’s bad or anything that can make you feel upset, sometimes it’s best to tell… a censored version. You’re not lying, but you’re not telling everything. Sometimes the details in a story can hurt, not just the listener, but the person telling it,” Kuwabara explained. This was a serious concept to be explaining to a child, but something his own sister had helped him understand.

When his first cat had died, his sister had told him about the death and helped him lay his cat to rest. He had been six at the time, and the moment had been hard, but she had helped him deal with it, by keeping a darker truth from him. What she didn’t say was that their cruel neighbor next door had fed the cat anti-freeze, a fact he learned much later in life.

She had protected Kuwabara from a harsh fact. That people could be especially cruel, and in shielding him, she had maintained his innocence until he was ready for such harsher realities.

While worried about talking about the details of his past, he felt he could turn this into a lesson for the little girl, just as his sister had done for him.

“I don’t want you to hurt Mr. Kuwabara. You don’t have to tell me!” Chibi-Usa exclaimed, clearly worried.

Kuwabara gathered the girl in his arms in an easy swoop, “No it’s fine. Holding on to something like this… isn’t good for me either. I’ll tell you… but only if that’s still alright with you.”

After a pause, Chibi-Usa nodded, wide eyes locked on Kuwabara’s face.

“I used to work for someone where I would help find bad people and put them away in jail. You could sort of think of me as a volunteer cop... or a detective,” Kuwabara began, letting Chibi-Usa settle in his arms, “I didn’t work alone either, there was a group of us. I was close to the people I worked with, and I really enjoyed what I was doing. I felt like I was making the difference. Righting wrongs, fighting evil... it felt like an honorable and heroic job," Kuwabara felt his face slipping into a smile as he recalled all the close calls he had had with his friends.

"Well one day, when I was alone, I met a girl. She was pretty and nice,  and I liked her very much. As it turned out, she was pretending to be nice, so that she could get me alone and take me away from my friends. You see, my best friend and I had… "arrested” someone she loved, and she wanted to get back at me. So she tried to hurt me, and my friends. My friends and I all fought really hard and stopped her. But she had already injured me severely. My leg was so hurt, that it just can’t be fixed all the way. And…“ Kuwabara sighed, his chest aching, "And I can’t be a volunteer cop anymore. At least not in the way I used to be.”

Chibi-Usa wrapped her arms around Kuwabara’s neck and gave him a squeeze, hugging the older man tight, “Is that what you wanted to be? A cop?”

Kuwabara pat the small girl’s back, “No…well. It’s a little silly. I liked fighting, and I liked helping out. I realized a long time ago, I didn’t want to be a volunteer cop forever. Fighting really bad people… made me unhappy. But fighting has a thrill to it! There are challenges to overcome, and goals you can set. Learning to protect yourself, giving yourself goals… all that is good for you! So… I thought I could be a teacher. Like a martial arts teacher. I even had a friend who has a shrine that would let me use it and set up a school for other kids. So I wanted to be a teacher. And if I taught other kids, I could still remain close to my friends. Fighting is very important to them, and if I still practiced it… they’d stick around. Especially my best friend. Being with him, that’s all I really ever wanted. To be able to be with him, fight alongside him…”

Kuwabara sighed, “But the injury has changed all my plans. And it makes me… sad. But even worse, it makes my friends and sister sad. I don’t feel like I really know how to move past it.”

The two stayed silent for a while, before Kuwabara laughed awkwardly, "That didn't really answer why I limp, did it? I kind of rambled there..." 

Chibi-Usa sniffled, "No, no! It's fine. I-I understand why you limp. Your leg is still hurting," her little voice was watery, and Kuwabara was sad that he had caused it.

Kuwabara gently set Chibi-Usa down, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say so much about it, or upset you.”

“Don’t be sorry! I asked… and we’re friends. Talking about this stuff can help you, that’s what you said right?” Chibi-Usa pointed out sticking her chin out bravely. Her red eyes were filled with concern, and she kept a hand on Kuwabara’s pant leg after he let her go, “Hey. Your dream to be a teacher… you’re still doing it, aren’t you? You’re not teaching kids how to fight, but you are teaching them how to better themselves. So if one part of your dream can still work, why can’t the other part? If you talk with your friends I’m sure they’d tell you they would never leave you! Things are different, but they don’t have to be bad.”

Kuwabara stared at Chibi-Usa in stunned silence, before wiping his eyes that were suddenly full of tears, “Little Princess… you are far too smart to be a little kid. Wise beyond your years!”

Chibi-Usa smiled, “Talk to your friends okay?”

Kuwabara could only nod. It had been a surprising relief to talk to someone, even if it was in simple terms. What had happened to him was painful, and Kuwabara felt like a wedge had been driven between him and his friends. They weren’t always good with words, especially he and Yusuke. The pair would shout and argue all the time but through their eyes and their fists… that’s where their real conversations took place a lot of the time. They had all be so busy dancing around what happened to Kuwabara, that they just stopped talking. Stopped shouting. Stopped fighting.

Communication had just died.

“I’ve been running away from my friends this whole time,” Kuwabara whispered his breath shaky. He sighed, placing his hand on his hips, “Boy do I feel silly. I don’t know why I’ve been scared. I would never tip-toe around my problems before. I've always been the type to run head on... but I guess I got scared. Chibi-Usa thank you… I really needed this talk. More than I thought.”

Chibi-Usa grinned, smiling proudly. She opened her arms for Kuwabara to give her a hug, and with a gentle smile the large man knelt down and held her close. 

"Ugh this is so sentimental I think I'm going to throw up!" A snarky girl's voice interrupted the moment.

Kuwabara's head snapped up, and the little girl tensed in his arms. Both of them turned to see a young teen sitting on the very top of a street light. She was scantily clad in all red and held a large red orb in her hand. She was spinning it on the very top of her finger as if it was a basketball, though it looked more like a large red crystal ball. Her face appeared bored, but now that they were looking at her she smiled in a mischevious manner.

Kuwabara frowned hard... something was off. He was sensing something about this girl, some sort of mixed energy. He couldn't quite explain it. Not demonic, not spiritual, not human... it was as if something had tainted whatever power source this girl had, making it so Kuwabara could not detect her true strength. But despite the confusing aura he was picking up from this girl, he was at least certain she was a threat.

"Kuwabara...we need to go," Chibi-Usa whispered her voice frightened.

Kuwabara picked up the small girl, glaring at the teen in red, "If you're going to throw up, do it on yourself. That attitude of yours is pretty gross!"

VesVes blinked, before snickering, "Wow old man is that all you can say?" The teen hopped down from the street light, falling slowly as she defied gravity, "There's a powerful light growing from your dreams...why don't you show them to me?"

"Please Mr. Kuwabara, run! Don't let her near you!" Chibi-Usa cried, gripping the collar of Kuwabara's shirt.

Kuwabara grit his teeth, and sharply turned away from the teen and took off running through the brush. His stride was awkward as his limp slowed him down quite a bit, but he was still running at a decent speed. Without looking back, he tore through the park, using his clairvoyance to avoid any other people who could get hurt as he fled.  A part of himself hated to be running away, but the girl's safety mattered more than his pride. 

Kuwabara had just burst into a green clearing, right in view of the city streets, when something caught his bad leg. With a cry of pain he went down, and to his horror, he lost grip of Chibi-Usa.

"No!" He gasped, before falling hard to the ground, the little girl flying several feet ahead of him. Pointing his hand at the girl he held a breath and forced his energy to cushion her fall. This was a type of telepathy Genkai had tried teaching him on several occasions. It was a method to shape your power into a type of shield, and while he wasn't too good at it, he could make a very weak shield. He could only pray he had enough control to protect the little girl without hurting her.

Luck was on his side, as he managed to focus enough to make his energy form a wobbly shield. Chibi-Usa fell, but never touched the ground, and instead bounced off what seemed like a cushion of air. The girl slid on to the grass in the field looking very surprised and a little confused. When she looked back to Kuwabara, the girl jumped to her feet, "Mr. Kuwabara!" She was pointing at something behind him.

Wincing, Kuwabara turned and saw what looked like a tiger on his leg. It seemed to be made of shadow, but the creature was holding him down by his bad leg, preventing him from getting up. He wasn't sure, but he had a feeling that this creature had tripped him up and not his own feet. 'Is this one of the monsters?' Kuwabara thought as he stared at it. It really seemed nothing more than a shadow. He could even look through it as if it was only a thick black fog.

The teen materialized before him, holding the red ball in her hand, as well as a cue stick. She grinned down at Kuwabara smugly, "You can't run from me, not with that gimpy leg!"

"Mr. Kuwabara!" Chibi-Usa was crying, drawing ever closer to Kuwabara.

'She'll be in danger,' Kuwabara thought abruptly, and he felt his stomach flood with ice.

"No..." Kuwabara grit his teeth, and his eyes flashed a golden orange. Turning to glare at the shadow tiger, he noticed VesVes took a step back, seemingly alarmed by the energy he was putting off. Kuwabara took in a deep breath, his energy spiking as he prepared himself. With his right hand extended he called forth his spirit sword and sliced the shadow in half. An oddly feminine cry erupted from the beast before the shadow broke as if it was made of glass. Dark pieces scattered into a million pieces, blowing away like sparkling dust.

"What... What was that?!" the girl in red cried, now taking several steps back, clearly unnerved.

Kuwabara then slapped his hand down on his left leg. His eyes were glowing gold as he manipulated his energy to flow through his leg. He had been secretly practicing molding his energy around and in his leg to fill the spaces that were damaged. In theory, it was like what Genkai did. When she needed to be her most powerful, she could lift the years off her self and go back to the height of her ability and youth. Kuwabara had been trying to replicate her technique...though he'd never managed to achieve his goal longer than even half a second.

But that was all he needed.

He could feel his energy coursing through his leg, filling in the spaces of his leg that were missing and burning away the parts that hurt. With no effort, Kuwabara rose to his feet, dropped his sword, and turned to run away from the stunned teen in red. Chibi-Usa had frozen in place and was staring at Kuwabara with uncertainty as he headed for her. Kuwabara swooped down and grabbed the girl, pressing her firmly against his chest, and continued in his sprint.

He was running faster than he had thought he could possibly go, faster than he ever remembered going when his leg was whole.

He counted the seconds down as he ran, putting distance between himself and the girl. His left leg felt so enhanced like he was practically bouncing off the ground with every step. It was amazing to be running with both his legs in full use. He was approaching the Tokyo streets and leaving the park behind. Just a little further... every moment counted. He had to get away. Had to protect the girl. He had-

He's made it to eight seconds before it felt like his leg exploded.

"Ahh!" He cried out, his cry stopping short as if he'd been punched in the gut.

Unable to stop himself he fell hard on the ground but managed to protect Chibi-Usa as he went down. Rolling into the fall, he took the brunt of it. He rolled and rolled until he was laying on his back, Chibi-Usa clinging to his chest. Weakly his arm slid from the little girl, and he felt his strength leave him in waves.

"Mr. Kuwabara! Mr. Kuwabara!" Chibi-Usa was crying.

His eyes opened but he couldn't see her, the world had gone white. He had never used his spiritual power in such a way. He'd only practiced trying to re-route his power, but even then only for a half second. He had managed to do it though, he had managed to restore his leg. Even if it was only a moment, his leg had been whole. He had been whole.

Kuwabara closed his eyes moaning with pain.

"Mr. Kuwabara! Your leg... it's bleeding!" Chibi-Usa's voice was shaking. Her hands came to his face, and he gently placed a large hand over her two small ones. He wanted to give her comfort, even if he was going to pass out at any moment.

"Did we escape?" Kuwabara asked, keeping his eyes closed. He was tired and quickly losing his ability to stay away.

"Yes! You ran really fast! Mr. Kuwabara, you did something... something really..." The child trailed off, unable to explain what she had just witnessed.

"You're going to have to run now," Kuwabara whispered, "Run and get help. Find Usagi and Mamoru. That girl from earlier is dangerous...and I can sense her..."

"No... I cant! Mr. Kuwabara!" Chibi-Usa's voice was drifting away. She sounded like she was calling through a fog.

'I'm going to pass out...pass out and leave her alone...I can't!'  Kuwabara thought futilely, his heart racing.

"Chibi-Usa!!" A familiar voice was crying.

The little girl's hands squeezed Kuwabara's hand, before she shouted, "Mama! Help!"

Kuwabara opened his eyes for just a moment. Some of his vision has returned, but not enough for him to see properly. Everything was still too bright, and he could only see colors. Lazily his eyes scanned over to where he had heard someone call for Chibi-Usa.  Someone Chibi-Usa had called Mama.

He saw two streams of gold.

And then he closed his eyes.

 


 

Kuwabara watched a little girl race through a field of red flowers. Streams of long golden white hair flew behind her as she chased after something running ahead of her in the garden.  Whatever she was chasing was small and could not be spotted. But the flowers and grass rustled as whatever it was led the child around and around.

"Is she chasing Luna?" a low feminine voice asked from over Kuwabara's shoulder.

"Yes," Kuwabara answered a smile tugging at his lips. He wasn't sure how he knew it was Luna... but somehow he just knew.

At this moment Kuwabara realized he was in a dream. Somehow he was dreaming, and playing out a part. When had he fallen asleep?

"I'm glad they get along. Serenity loves her friends, but doesn't understand their constant training," the female's voice continued.

"She doesn't understand how important she is. She is a very kind little princess," Kuwabara said proudly, voice dripping with pure affection.

"You are under her spell," the woman teased.

"Aren't we all?" Kuwabara chuckled.

Kuwabara wished he could move his dream version's head. He wanted to see the woman or look down at himself. He wanted to do something other than standing still as this dream played out. What kind of dream was this anyway? Why did it feel so real?

"I have another favor to ask of you," the woman said, her hand coming to Kuwabara's back.

"I will do anything for you and your family," Kuwabara declared before turning to look directly at the woman.

He could not see her, only a strange silvery light.

Her voice spoke from the light, "I was hoping you could prepare a few wands and other items. It would make it easier for the girls to transform. Your friends are already training them in their arts so well, but having something to focus their power on should really help them master their abilities, if that time should arise. "

"I can do that. I will need Luna and Artemis for a time. I need to make sure they all remained synched," Kuwabara said tapping his fingers to his chin, "We should prepare something for the little princess as well."

"Serenity? She won't be fighting!" The woman protested.

"You said that about yourself once too. And I said the same... but fighting came to both of us. It is best to be prepared. Your daughter will one day be able to use the most powerful crystal in the universe and she should also have tools that can help her safely use it," Kuwabara reasoned.

The woman sighed, "You are right... I wish only peace would come for my daughter."

"Peace can only exist on its own for a little while. It must be protected. By everyone," Kuwabara whispered his tone tinged with regret.

"Kuwabara you need to be awake for this part..."

He was having a nightmare.

 


 

Kuwabara opened his eyes.

Again he was caught in a dream that he could only let play out. But this was no dream, it was a memory. A terrible, terrible memory...

Kuwabara was completely submerged in a large glass tube, filled with a clear thick liquid. His wrists and feet were bound and connected to a metal base at the bottom of the tube. Though Kuwabara was inside a liquid, he was breathing without the help of a respirator.

"You can speak telepathically. The perfluorocarbon-based substance has been enhanced by my father's research. It should have expanded your psychic abilities a bit," a calm woman's voice instructed.

Kuwabara shifted his head, moving slowly. It was like trying to move through jello. To his left, stood Harumi in a long white lab coat. Her golden brown hair was in a messy bun atop her head, and her lovely face was concentrating on a machine in front of her. She looked perfectly human, though some of her features had shifted and elongated from the last time he'd seen her. He had thought Harumi was human, but the subtle oddities of her face now... if only he had sensed something sooner.

'What have you done to me?'  Kuwabara thought, testing the claim she had made. He was surprised to hear his voice echo all around him, though the words were soft and tired.

The part of him that was awake was screaming. He was angry... he didn't want to remember this. He didn't want to! He had to wake up.

"Your voice isn't strong yet, but the fact that I can hear you at all is a good start! You are a very powerful psychic Kazuma," the woman praised with a smile." Not much has been done to you...not yet. A simple abduction as well as pumping you full of a few things to keep you on your best behavior," Harumi explained, walking over to a computer that seemed connected to the tube Kuwabara was in.

'I remember the abduction part...' Kuwabara thought dryly, his words sounding annoyed.

"Your vitals are looking good," Harumi murmured. Her eyes then met Kuwabara's and she smiled, "You know my father was a great scientist."

'He was a liar and a cheat, who hurt people to get what he wanted,'  Kuwabara thought bitterly, his words reverberating around the room.

Harumi smiled wistfully, "Yes... he was those things too. He was a genius... He was a genius, and when you're a genius you will do anything to achieve your goals! He was brilliant and then Yusuke killed him. Though he wouldn't have managed it if you hadn't awoken his subjects. You were a catalyst to his death."

'He was 'his own catalyst,' Kuwabara thought angrily, 'Abducting people and turning them into his own science projects... he was sick!'

"People who aren't scientifically inclined will never understand my father's vision," Harumi said with a frown, "I don't expect you to get it. But my father wanted your body, and he wanted Yusuke's. I had to meet you both to figure out why." Her hand went to a knob connected to a circuit board.

Kuwabara wished he could close his eyes, but his dream self would not. He braced for pain instinctively.

Harumi turned the knob and a course of electricity raced through the tube. Kuwabara could not scream as his body was electrified. It lasted nine horrible seconds and then was gone.

"Sorry Kuwabara, I have to get you ready. You see I want to continue my father's work, but also make it my own," Harumi said, her tone growing a little manic, "I want to make you into a demon. A demon that will serve me. And to do that... well, we have to alter you just a bit. If it's successful you'll help me go after Yusuke, or at least you'll die trying. Brace yourself. This will hurt " Harumi cranked the knob again, and this time Kuwabara's thoughts echoed around the room, screaming for him.

"Just as my father was well known, soon the name of Harumi Ichigaki will be known all throughout the makai." 

 


 

Kuwabara opened his eyes.

A fast-paced beeping sound reached his ears before his vision cleared. Breathing hard he slowly looked around the room, trying to gound himself back into the present. He was in a simple room with a chair in the corner, and a small table. A large window with long white curtains was to the left and slightly parted revealing a dark sky and empty streets.

It was now night. How long had he been out?

To his right were two doors, and some medical equipment, a heart monitor and something else he'd seen before but didn't know the name of. There was also an I.V. pumping in some sort of fluids into his body. Kuwabara looked down at himself, realizing he was laying on a slightly raised bed while wearing a medical gown. Tubing was coming out of his arm, and his nose trailing down his body, connecting him to all the equipment and medical bags.

The frantic beeping sound was slowing, and Kuwabara realized it was a heart monitor making all the noises. Touching his chest he could feel the lead that was adhered to his chest keeping track of his heartbeat. He thought of pulling it off but that would only make a nurse run into his room, and he really didn't want that right now.

"I'm in a hospital," Kuwabara whispered as the truth dawned on him.

Looking down to his bad leg, Kuwabara saw that is was sitting on top of the sheet strewn loosely over him. 

His leg has looked like it had been put through a grinder.

From just above his knee, a long scar ran in a hooking motion. These thick hooked scars ran in long thick curving streaks up and down his leg, behind his ankle, and to the top of his foot. The scars were deep, and the skin tissue there was waxen. The worst part of his leg was behind his calf. It looked as if a large part of it had been scooped away, and his leg healed with a big dent, completely deforming it. The leg was also awkwardly thinner than the counterpart, and weaker from all the damage. It always shook when Kuwabara walked too much.

This was not new damage, this was what his leg had looked like since his dealings with Harumi.

Since that incident, he'd never been able to properly heal it.

Growling with frustration he forced himself to sit up and reached out to touch his leg. His memories from the day were slowly returning as his fear from his nightmares resided. He remembered today he and Chibi-Usa had been attacked and some sort of beast had reinjured his leg. Taking a closer look at the limb now, he saw that some of his old lacerations had opened up, and he had long lines of stitches. The shadow beast had tripped him up, but it had been by his own hands that he had harmed himself. He was sure of it... forcing the energy through his leg had helped him escape, but had opened some of his old wounds.

He was so frustrated he wanted to scream. A myriad of emotions swirled inside him, but he could only grit his teeth and try to fight against the wave of it all. Finally, something broke inside him.

Sitting up in the darkness of his room, miles away from home and his friends, Kuwabara felt safe enough to cry undisturbed. Pulling his injured leg to him, Kuwabara rest his cheek against his scarred limb and cried for the loss of his leg, mourning it in a way he had not allowed himself to do the previous year.

He ran his hands over his deformed leg and mourned its misshapen form, and the dreams he felt he could now never achieve.

And when he, at last, was empty he let out a shuddering sigh and sat in the silence of his hospital room letting go of the emotions he had kept bottled. When, at last, the beginning glimmers of the morning cut through his window, Kuwabara laid back down, tucking his leg under the sheet, and finally went back to sleep.

 


End of Chapter 6

 

Chapter Text

Usagi was waiting impatiently for school to end. For the entire day, she'd been keeping a restless eye on the clock, her leg bouncing up and down with every second that passed. 

Today had been difficult without Mr. Kuwabara's smiling face, and goofy attitude. The class felt his absence, as well as the school's staff. Kuwabara needed to be here today. He had become a perpetual part of the place, and without him, the day felt mundane.

When she and the other students had entered their classroom, Miss Haruna had made sure the class settled down quickly. Her face was pinched with concern, and her brow furrowed as she began to speak. Miss Haruna then explained to the class that Mr. Kuwabara was attacked at the park on Sunday afternoon, a fact that Usagi already knew about. Usagi could only look down at her hands as the rest of the classmates burst into concerned whispers and loud gasps of horror. Questions were thrown through the air before Miss Haruna could get the class back under control.

"Is Mr. Kuwabara alright?"

"Was it one of those weird monsters?"

"Of course it was a weird monster! I hope he doesn't want to leave now!"

"Did Sailor V show up? Did Sailor Moon?"

"Where was Sailor Moon?"

Usagi flinched and felt her throat tighten. Shifting uncomfortably in her chair, Miss Haruna managed to get the class under control.

"We don't know about too much that happened, but I want to take this moment to talk to you about keeping yourselves safe," Miss Haruna said, with a bit of a teary-eyed look. She then went on the explain the importance of being in groups, about looking out for strange people, and the dangers of muggers.

The class groaned and protested. The school staff referred to the odd monster attacks as a type of home terrorist attacks. Or muggers. Or worse, sometimes they even called it "stranger danger."

'Muggers...if only,' Usagi thought with a bitter taste in her mouth. She closed her eyes, taking herself back to Sunday, back to that terrible afternoon when she'd found Chibi-Usa with a collapsed Kuwabara.

 


 

Usagi and Mamoru had taken Chibi-Usa to the park, enjoying a moment together. Chibi-Usa had taken off to play at the kid's park, which was a rare treat for Usagi. Normally, the little girl wanted to remain clinging to Mamoru, and hog his attention. So with her future daughter distracted, Usagi had used that moment to pull Mamoru to a quiet part of the park where they could enjoy each other's company in private. It had been wonderful for a few blissful moments.

That moment had been ruined when she and Mamoru had heard Chibi-Usa's screams echoing through the park. Instantly the two were on their feet and running for the playground where the little girl should have been. When they didn't spot her there, Usagi had felt an icy chill run down her spine, and something clench hard in her stomach. Mamoru's hand came around Usagi's shoulders, and she was pulled hard against him, his voice in her ear, "Usako. Don't panic... let's transform. We'll find her. We'll find her...let's go."

With gentle but firm hands Mamoru led Usagi away to a more private area in the park, where they both transformed.

Another scream caught their ears, but this time they could tell where the cry was coming from. There was something about being transformed that always helped Usagi locate whoever was in danger. She had always assumed that when she was Sailor Moon, all her abilities were heightened and it would guide her to the trouble. Now, more than ever she was grateful for that unique ability.

Without alerting Tuxedo Mask she tore through the bushes, charging ahead for where she believed Chibi-Usa's voice was coming from.

Sure enough, she was soon in a clearing and spotted VesVes approaching Chibi-Usa and a downed figure near her. Sailor Moon opened her mouth to cry out at VesVes, but to her surprise, the girl turned and ran away in the opposite direction. VesVes hadn't even bothered getting closer to Chibi-Usa and the downed man, she just ran. Running as if she'd been frightened by something...

Chibi-Usa spotted Sailor Moon, and with a frightened cry of, "Mama!" the heroine knew something awful had happened. Chibi-Usa was always so brave, and so strong... she hardly ever let herself act like a scared child. If she was doing so now... the blonde grit her teeth for a moment and called back out to the girl, "Chibi-Usa! I'm coming!"

Behind her, she could hear Tuxedo Mask, his footfalls just behind hers.

"Who is with her?" he panted.

"I can't tell..." She answered, before pushing herself that last stretch to get to Chibi-Usa's side. When they reached Chibi-Usa and the man, Sailor Moon let out a gasp of horror. It was Kuwabara.

He was already passed out on the ground, his left pant leg stained red with blood, with Chibi-Usa trembling like a leaf and staring up at Sailor Moon with a tear-stained face.

Sailor moon dropped to her knees and quickly embraced Chibi-Usa pulling the small girl to her, pressing the upset child against her chest. Cupping the little girl's face, she positioned her body so that Chibi-Usa could not see Kuwabara anymore. Behind her, Mamoru had gone to Kuwabara, no doubt looking the man over. The pair worked in harmony, something they had become very good at once their memories of their lost love had awoken.

"Chibi-Usa, what happened? I need you to tell me okay?" Sailor moon spoke softly but firmly, making sure the little girl was focused on her.

Through her tears, Chibi-Usa explained the whole story and then went on to explain that Kuwabara had done something strange.

"He glowed!" Chibi-Usa whispered, her tears calming.

"Glowed? Like...when we transform?" Usagi asked, trying to ignore the sound of Mamoru ripping his cape to make bandages.

"Yes. It was... it was power. Like. It felt like the scouts I think? Or... or even the imperium crystal. Something...good?" Chibi-Usa tried to explain. In the back of her mind, Sailor Moon recalled Rei's inability to fully detect and understand the reading she had gotten from Kuwabara.

"It felt good? You felt safe?" Sailor Moon asked, trying to understand exactly what Chibi-Usa had felt.

"Yes. He saved me with it. It's not bad!" The little girl insisted, her eyes sincere and sure.

"We can discuss more later," Tuxedo Mask whispered suddenly, turning from Kuwabara to look at the girls. He kept his gaze steady as he began to explain, "Kuwabara needs a hospital. His leg appears badly injured. I can take him myself, I'm stronger like this, so I can carry him. Sailor Moon...please take Chibi-Usa to my place. We need to talk about what happened."

Sailor Moon nodded, and plucked Chibi-Usa up whose face had gone red, "I should have transformed!" the child burst. "I could have called Pegasus! I could have...could have done something!"

Sailor Moon shushed the girl gently, stroking the back of her head, "It's okay Chibi-Usa. Mr. Kuwabara just wanted to keep you safe. Don't blame yourself... you didn't have time to transform, and he would have seen you too. It's not your fault. Let's just go home okay?"

With that said Sailor Moon darted off with the little girl, leaving Tuxedo Mask and Kuwabara behind. She did not look back, knowing if she did, she would not have the strength to leave the pair alone. When they were at Mamoru's apartment Usagi let her transformation fall away, and held Chibi-Usa as she cried. Chibi-Usa had not been this upset in a long time, and seeing the girl in such a state made Usagi's heart ache. Usagi found herself choking on her own tears as the girl cried, and she could only squeeze and try to comfort the child as she too was rocked with concern for Kuwabara.

It was almost an hour's wait before Mamoru came home. He took his girls in his arms and held them both tight, trying to smother them with is warm embrace and stop their tears. In a tight huddle, the group all collapsed on his couch together, and Mamoru gently prodded Chibi-Usa for more of the story. Pressed tight against Usagi, but also holding Mamoru's hand she began her tale again. She talked about Kuwabara telling her a story about his leg. About him saying he was lonely, and missing his friends. And then about VesVes showing up.

"He's the next target," Chibi-Usa sniffled, "we gotta protect his dream! He just wants to be a teacher, and be with his friends! They shouldn't get his dream!"

"We'll protect him, you don't have to worry about that," Mamoru promised, "But you said something about a weird light?"

Chibi-Usa nodded her head, sniffing, "He was pinned to the ground by a monster VesVes summoned. I was running to help, when Kuwabara's body...changed. It... he stayed the same, but something was coming off of it, and his eyes glowed. Then he made a fist and cut the air around the monster like he was holding a sword. I couldn't see it at first, but when he moved his arm again I could see he was actually holding a sword! It was glowing and orange."

"A glowing sword?" Usagi echoed, frowning as she glanced at Mamoru.

He however, kept his eyes on Chibi-Usa and gently pressed, "And what happened after that?"

"The monster shattered," Chibi-Usa answered, her voice soft and filled with awe, "It was like Usagi had used her Moon Kalidiscope on it. He destroyed it...completely. It scared Vesves...but then he put his hand on his bad leg, and the glowing went into his leg. I could see it through his clothes. His leg at first had parts that didn't look right, but the light he was making filled in all the missing places. And then he picked me up and ran! He was going so fast I couldn't see, and then he just...he just fell! And his leg... his leg was really hurt."

Chibi-Usa closed her eyes, "He saved us both...but I don't know what he did. He just... he had magic somehow."

Gently Mamoru lifted the girl from Usagi and cradled her against his shoulder. "You did good," he praised, "Thank you for telling us what happened. Don't worry about it anymore for now. The important thing is you and Mr. Kuwabara are both safe. He may be in the hospital, but the doctors didn't seem too worried. Some small injuries and exhaustion. Everything will be alright."

Chibi-Usa had gone quiet, and Usagi leaned over to check her face. Chibi-Usa had passed out, too tired from all her crying.

"She's sleeping," Usagi explained in a relieved voice. Mamoru smiled, nodding as he motioned that he would be standing. Usagi moved away allowing her boyfriend plenty of room to stand up and carry Chibi-Usa away. Mamoru slowly and quietly made his way to his room and tucked his future daughter into his bed. He looked at her red-rimmed eyes and sad expression that stayed on her face even as she slept, and frowned. He hated this feeling like he had failed...

Failed to protect his daughter, failed to keep her happy. Clenching his jaw for a moment, he let out a frustrated breath, and with a last look at the little girl, he shut the door. He had turned back to Usagi and with a serious expression began to tell the blonde the rest of the story, "His leg looked like it had been in pieces. When I arrived at the hospital I saw them clean his leg better, and I realized his wounds were all old. They had just been reopened."

Usagi shivered, and felt tears prickle her eyes, "Was it really...bad?"

Her voice cracked in a way that made Mamoru's heart clench.

Mamoru closed the distance between them, taking long strides towards the girl. He then took the petite blonde in his arms, pulling her up from the couch, and brushed a tender kiss to her forehead, "It looked bad, but he's a the hospital. The doctors made it seem like everything was okay. He had just fainted with minor lacerations... He'll be alright."

"Minor?!" Usagi squeaked her voice cracking with disbelief.

Mamoru ran a hand over her hair and gently soothed her, "Really... minor. Yes, his old wounds were open... and those were... bad. But it was all surface level. Like popping stitches."

"He limps...I've noticed but I...I just. I didn't think..." Usagi was feeling flustered. She had seen Kuwabara limping, seen him struggle to go from sitting to standing. But, perhaps naively, she hadn't thought anything was actually wrong. She hadn't made the connection that he had an injury that caused him to walk so. He was just the friendly Mr. Kuwabara who liked cats, video games, and talking to all his students.

Mamoru squeezed the girl tighter and reluctantly spoke, "We need to discuss the powers Chibi-Usa saw."

"He used them to protect her!" Usagi immediately protested, already sensing what Mamoru was going to bring up.

"I know, I'm not saying he's bad... but we need to talk to Rei. Maybe he's not dangerous but if he has some sort of power... we need to figure out what it is."

"I don't like this!" Usagi suddenly sobbed.

Mamoru felt his stomach tighten and his heart stutter. He hated seeing Usagi cry. There was something so heartbreaking about seeing someone who had such a radiant personality cry. She always shone so brightly. Her smile was dazzling, her presence soothing and friendly. She lit up the room, and all who saw her was drawn to her. She was the sun and everyone revolved around her, pulled to her warm glow. But when she cried... it was a pain everyone could feel. Mamoru would give anything to keep Usagi only smiling. He wrapped his arms around her, wishing he knew the right words to make her stop.

Unable to stop her tears on guesses alone, he asked: "What is it?"

"I don't want to find out...that he's evil... or possessed or...I don't know! I don't want to investigate him... go behind his back and try to find... dirt on him or whatever! Mr. Kuwabara is really nice and he doesn't think I'm stupid-"

"You're not stupid!" Mamoru suddenly interrupted heatedly, angered that Usagi would suggest that about herself, "You're not! You may struggle at school, but that doesn't mean you're stupid! Is someone at school saying something like that to you?!"

Usagi sniffled, and then to his surprise, she giggled, "Mamo-chan...even you've teased me about my grades before..."

Mamoru flushed remembering their very first encounter. He had indeed made fun of her grades and continued to do so in the first months they had known each other. Back then he had felt an instant connection towards the blonde, and she brought something out of him. It made him want to tease her and see her face flush, to have an excuse to be talking with her while her eyes flashed with passion. He hadn't realized then how attracted he'd been to her, and so he'd picked on the girl, unable to understand his real feelings. After a moment he muttered, "Well I was pretty stupid wasn't I?"

Usagi hiccuped, and tucked her head under Mamoru's chin, dissolving into giggles. Mamoru felt his anger and protective worry unclench, and he relaxed as Usagi calmed and snuggled into his arms, right where she belonged.

"Kuwabara is very nice, and it's not like any of us is planning to hurt him. If he has some sort of special power, we really need to look into it. Usako...I can't risk your safety or Chibi-Usa's...we have to look into this. You understand right?" Mamoru whispered into her hair.

The blonde didn't respond and the man stooped so he could press his forehead against hers and look into her eyes. She was looking away from him, something she rarely did. He couldn't recall ever seeing Usagi so conflicted before. Her blue eyes finally turned to him, and she stared at him, piercing his soul.

Drawn to her as a moth would be to a flame, he kissed her, savoring the taste of her soft mouth. Her arms rose to slip around his neck, and she pressed against him seeking comfort in their embrace. Pulling her closer, he just wished that they could remain like this. Alone in their own little world, with a hand in her hair and another at her waist. Her heartbeat fluttering against his own thunderous heart. Their kiss deepened a moment, a gentle brushing of tongues, and gasping breath, before he reluctantly pulled away. He had to pull away or he feared he'd never be able to stop. Her face was flushed and her eyes danced in a way he adored, and in a way that was just for him.

"You and the girls just want to protect me," Usagi whispered, "I understand... I just..."

"You don't want to be wrong about Kuwabara. You really trust and believe in him," Mamoru whispered already knowing what Usagi was feeling.

"Yes," Usagi whispered nodding her head once.

Mamoru kissed her brow, "For now...don't worry about what him having powers might mean. For now... let's just alert the girls, take care of Chibi-Usa and tomorrow you can visit him in the hospital."

"Alright," Usagi agreed, and let Mamoru carry her to the couch, where he would hold her and comfort her. Just being in his arms made her feel safe. She had stayed with him Sunday and through the night.  Usagi had called Mina, and Mina had called Usagi's parents, helping to cover for her and Chibi-Usa's absence. She had needed to be with Mamoru and take comfort in his arms that night, with Chibi-Usa cradled between them...

 


 

 

...But now she was at school, waiting for the day to be over so that she could visit Kuwabara. She wanted to see him and ask what he remembered. She wanted to know if he was okay, or if he was hurting. She had become so close to Kuwabara in such a short amount of time--it was a little frightening.

But she couldn't shake the feeling that Kuwabara was...

She couldn't put the words to it.

The bell rang, and Usagi practically jumped up hurrying to put the books in her bag. She was always one to rush out of class, but today she had reak purpose to leave.

"Usagi," Makoto's low voice called out to her, while simultaneously Ami put a hand on her shoulder.

After her bag was packed, Usagi turned to look at her friends. They were frowning with concern, and looking uncomfortably at her hands and her bag.

"We should go with you," Ami said softly.

"To protect me or the check on Mr. Kuwabara?" Usagi asked, feeling unexpectedly aggravated.

The girls shared a look, and then Makoto asked, "Why can't it be both? We like Mr. Kuwabara, and while we don't know what he did, we know he used some sort of power to protect Chibi-Usa. We're worried about him too, but we're also worried about you."

"You're our princess," Amy whispered, "And our dear friend. I don't know what we'd do if something happened to you." Ami reached out and took Usagi's wrists gently in her hands, speaking sincerely.

Usagi pouted, and looked down at the floor, "I'm sorry. I just... I don't want anyone to think bad about him. I feel as if we're already suspecting him of something!"

"He has some unexplained abilities," Makoto agreed, folding her arms. She too was sorry that they were all on high alert now about their new teacher. He was nice, and Makoto enjoyed talking to him. He put a lot of her insecurities to rest and made her feel better about herself. But now she was worried about what Chibi-Usa had seen. Golden orange eyes, and a glowing sword... it was all suspicious.

"We'll figure it out together, we're a team," Ami said trying to cheer Usagi up.

The blonde nodded and smiled though it was a little forced, "Right. Let's go on and go. Chibi-Usa is waiting for us at the arcade. She wants to come as well."

Makoto slung her arm around Usagi's shoulders, giving the girl a hug, "Yeah, let's go. We can pick up some flowers for him on the way."

 


 

Kuwabara was flipping through the channel on his t.v. feeling bored. Cops had just been by, and he gave them his rather bizarre story. It all sounded crazy to him, but the cops took it in stride. They even asked him if any of the sailor scouts had shown up to assist him. It was very...surreal. He never thought he'd been in some town that expected heroes to show up and save the day! Kuwabara had left out a few things, like the fact that he could summon a large sword, but for the most part was truthful.

They wrote everything down and then left wishing him a speedy recovery.

Now that he was alone, he was thinking about the girl in red. She had seemed like any other young teenager, though he wondered if she had called that tiger on him. And that animal looked like a living shadow. Was it like that shadow creature he encountered with Sensui and Itsuki? He had not spent enough time with the creature to see if it had a pocket dimension like the thing that had eaten him years ago. He shuddered suddenly pushing the thought of Yusuke's accepting smile as Sensui charged to kill him.

Setting his thoughts of the creature aside, he recalled that he hadn't seen any of the sailor scouts, though he wished he had. He would have liked to see their power in action and learn more about the girls. But in the end, he hadn't really learned anything. He'd saved Chibi-Usa, gotten hurt, and ended up in the hospital. It was very similar to what happened to the people Koenma had set.

Though as far as Kuwabara knew, no weird mirror or crystal was pulled out of him.

Sighing he looked at his wrist looking at his watch. If he thought about it, he should really call Koenma...and get pulled from the mission. That's what would happen if he called. He'd be pulled away from this mission and plopped back down in the cage his loved ones had constructed for him. Where he would sit far from harm, and never prove himself able to rejoin his friends. He'd grow old safe and protected, his weak leg getting coddled and cooed over while he withered up and died...

He gritted his teeth and put his arms behind his head, frowning with irritation. He was not willing to give up and call Koenma. He could keep going...Koenma didn't need to know about this incident right now.

Koenma could be mad at him after he figured some more of this... monster-business out.

There was a knock on his hospital door, and Kuwabara let his arms drop to his lap as he turned to look at the door, "Who is it?"

The door opened, and two cats quickly scurried in running for his bed, meowing impatiently. Luna and Diana were soon jumping up into his lap meowing at him for attention, and cuddling against him. Kuwabara laughed and pet the cats, smiling at his two little visitors.

"Luna! Diana! Be quiet! You'll get us thrown out!" Usagi's whispered voice hissed frantically from the doorway.

Kuwabara looked up smiling, and saw Usagi, Chibi-Usa, Ami, and Makoto hurrying inside the room, and hastily shutting the door so that the cats' meows would not be heard.


"Well, hello girls!" Kuwabara greeted with a big smile.

Chibi-Usa was carrying a bouquet of carnations that were about the size of her. Staggering a little, she approached Kuwabara who relieved her of her burden by taking the flowers. "Thank you," He said as he peered down at the little girl.

Her face was pinched with concern as she stared up at Kuwabara. The large man smiled and set the flowers aside and pressed a gentle hand on top of her head, "I'm glad to see you, Little Princess."

Her nose went red, and she sniffed, before exploding, "You're a big dummy!"

"Chibi-Usa!" Usagi scolded, rushing over to the little girl, and taking her arm.

"You can't push yourself that hard and get hurt like that!" Chibi-Usa continued her face hot with her myriad of emotions.

Kuwabara smiled with a surprising amount of patience. He gently ruffled her hair and said, "I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to get hurt. I just wanted to get away. A man can't abide a young lady to be hurt, so it was worth the risk. I really am sorry I scared you, but I'm doing much better now and will be out any day."

"Really?" Usagi asked looking at Kuwabara.

He turned and nodded to her, "Yes, Wednesday at the latest. They are really just holding me for a few tests. My stitches will dissolve on their own."

At the mention of stitches, all eyes turned to Kuwabara's leg. It was sitting on top of the sheet, exposed. As they turned to look, Kuwabara stiffened realizing his leg was bare, and hastily threw his sheet back over it.

The girls were kind enough to pretend they didn't see.

"So you'll be coming back to school soon?" Ami asked lightly, approaching his bedside.

Kuwabara focused on petting the cats, a little embarrassed about forgetting to hide his leg. But he answered with a jovial tone, "Yes. I'm really not that hurt. I know everything may have looked scary and sounded bad, but it was just old wounds reopening. I shouldn't have run so hard."

Kuwabara looked up at the girls, frowning slightly, "I don't know who that young girl was... but when I talked about it with the police it seems there are happenings like this often..."

Makoto laughed a bit awkwardly, "Yeah... there seems to be a gang of... people attacking anyone they come across."

"She was more like an alien if you ask me," Kuwabara snorted, "Weird hair, bad manners, and she floated!" Kuwabara looked to Chibi-Usa for validation, "When that girl jumped down from the light post, she fell in slow motion right? Like floating!"

"I think you hit your head too hard," Chibi-Usa chimed in a matter-of-fact tone.

"Hey!"

The group started laughing, and Usagi placed a friendly hand on Kuwabara's shoulder, "You should hurry and get well! Everyone will be leaving you presents on your desk, so you should return to some yummy treats! And all the teachers miss you too!"

Kuwabara grinned, "I will. I miss you guys too."

"Have you called your friends?" Chibi-Usa piped up.

He turned to her, and she fixed him with a hard stare. He sighed, and smiled, "I haven't."

"You should!" Chibi-usa insisted, eyes ablaze, "You don't have to lose anyone. Not because things are different!"

The girls looked at Chibi-Usa clearly not understanding the context of the pair's conversation. Kuwabara smiled and felt something unwind in his chest., "Yes, you're right Chibi-Usa. You're such a brave kid...I can't lie. I've been sitting here planning to not tell them anything. But I can't do that."

"No, you can't!" Chibi-Usa insisted with a stubborn nod of her head.

Kuwabara chuckled, ruffling Chibi-Usa's hair before turning to Usagi, "You must be raising her right."

Usagi flushed, and laughed her voice a little high, "Well I help out, but she's just my cousin!"

"Being a good role model has its merits too Usagi. She's with you every day, so you're helping raise her. Keep doing your best," Kuwabara said with a smile.

Usagi smiled back and held out her hand for Chibi-Usa. The girl took it, a little shyly, and then rested her head against Usagi's leg. Usagi gave her hand a gentle squeeze, "I will!" Usagi promised.

"You know, we should celebrate you getting released!" Ami suddenly piped up, her voice nervous.

"Yeah. Our friend Rei has a shrine, please come by this Sunday and we'll have some cake and snacks as a celebration! I'll bake it special myself!" Makoto said in an overly cheerful manner. 

Usagi turned to look at her friends, her eyes flashing with a mix of emotions, but most of all she was hurt. She didn't like "luring" Kuwabara back to Rei's shrine so that Rei could better determine if he was a danger. It felt...wrong to her somehow. Ami and Makoto avoided looking at Usagi, and Ami's ears burned red with shame.

"Aw, that sounds nice girls!" Kuwabara said, blissfully unaware of the plot surrounding him, "I'd love to stop by. I think I've mentioned before but a, well a sort of role model of mine, owns a shrine. I spent a lot of time there, so it'll be fun going back to one again!"

"Great we'll give you the address," Ami said, stumbling over her words a bit, as she stepped forward to hand Kuwabara a piece of paper.

Usagi turned away, "I'm sorry Mr. Kuwabara, I've got a lot of homework. Miss Haruna is piling it on in your absence." Usagi gently let go of Chibi-Usa's hand and turned away from the group to leave.

Chibi-Usa sensing something was wrong, waved goodbye to Kuwabara and ran to catch up with Usagi, catching the girl's hand. Luna, and Diana hesitated, but they too scurried off following after the girls, tailing Usagi in her hasty retreat.

"Poor Usagi, I always hated homework too," Kuwabara said with a sigh. He smiled at Makoto and Ami, "Take good care of her, huh?"

 

 


 

 

Usagi walked at a fast pace, holding Chibi-Usa's hand tight as they walked away from the hospital.

"Usagi!" Chibi-Usa protested, tugging at the blonde's hand, "Usagi you're walking too fast!"

Without answering, Usagi slowed down to a more normal pace. Chibi-Usa tilted her head and peered at Usagi's face.

"Usagi...why are you upset?" The little girl asked.

Usagi looked down at Chibi-Usa, meeting her future child's red gaze. Usagi took in a shaky breath and let it out in a long exhale, "The girls want Kuwabara to come to Rei's, so Rei can figure out the source of that weird power you saw."

"You mean his sword and what he did with his leg?" Chibi-Usa asked.

"Yes. But even before you told us about that, Rei said she could sense something about him. She's not sure what it is...so they want him to come to the shrine to find out if he's dangerous."

Chibi-Usa's face turned red from anger, and she puffed up her chest, "He's not! He's not dangerous!"

"That's what I think," Usagi said, her voice trembling, "So I don't...I don't like inviting him to the shrine with ulterior motives. I feel dishonest...and I don't like it..."

Fully understanding, Chibi-Usa wrapped her arms around Usagi's legs and hugged the girl tight, "Usagi..."

"I don't like lying to someone who is so nice. He helped you, and Luna trusts him... and I like him. So being dishonest like this..." Usagi bent down hugging Chibi-Usa to her, "It just feels the worst!"

Chibi-Usa squeezed Usagi tight, hugging her and offering as much comfort as she herself was taking. The pair held each other, with Luna and Diana bearing as quiet witnesses. The two cats exchanged looks and nuzzled against their respective owners.

"Usagi...I do like Kuwabara," Luna said, "He makes me feel young, and like I'm seeing an old friend. It's a funny feeling... but Usagi. Everyone is right. Your scouts are not trying to be suspicious...just cautious. If he is dangerous, we need to know."

"And if he's not bad, then there is no need to worry!" Diana pipped up, crawling up Chibi-Usa's body to rest on top of the little girl's head.

Usagi sighed looking at the cats, and Chibi-Usa, "That's what everyone keeps saying. If he's bad there's no need to worry, but I still don't like feeling dishonest. I'm not sensing anything bad from him, it's the opposite! I feel safe... and you've told me to trust my feelings. Suspecting him doesn't feel right."

Luna nuzzled against Usagi's leg, and the blonde scooped her up. Gently Luna tucked herself under Usagi's chin and let out a deep purr, "Please don't worry Usagi. You're not doing anything wrong..."

Usagi sighed, not satisfied with how she was feeling, or what anyone was telling her. Gently setting Luna down, Usagi stood to her full height and went back to holding the little girl's hand and resumed their walk.

"Why don't we go see Mamoru?" Chibi-Usa suggested, hoping to put a smile back on the blonde's face.

"No, Rei wants us at the shrine today. But he'll be there," Usagi said, smiling at the little girl, "You can see him there."

Chibi-Usa frowned with concern. For Usagi not to gush about Mamoru, but to quietly head to Rei's without being prompted, must have meant Usagi was extremely upset. Chibi-Usa squeezed the blonde's hand, and pressed it to her cheek, walking in silence with Usagi for a time. After a moment Chibi-Usa puffed up her chest and shouted, "WELL I'M MAD AND THINK YOU'RE RIGHT USAGI!"

Usagi jumped as Chibi-Usa began to scream, calling attention to herself, "Ch-Chibi-Usa!?"

"AND I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW, I'M ON YOUR SIDE!" Chibi-Usa continued to shout, even as her face flushed with embarrassment. Passerbys were turning to look at the little girl, and some even crossed the street to avoid the suddenly screaming child.

Usagi couldn't help but laugh, and then finally smiled. She stooped and picked Chibi-Usa up, giving her a twirl and then a tight hug, "Chibi-Usa... you're not just a pain! You're the best." Usagi buried her face in the little girl's neck and hair, and took in a calming breath, "Thank you for being on my side."

Chibi-Usa smiled but began to wiggle in the grasp, "Okay. You're welcome... but put me down!"

Usagi obeyed, making a small grunting sound as she did, "You're getting heavy. You're getting bigger and bigger every day," Usagi sighed, "You're even up to my waist now...we won't be able to call you small lady soon!"

Chibi-Usa's face flushed with pleasure as she was praised, and she tilted her head up with pride.

"Usagi!"

"Chibi-Usa!"

The two turned seeing Ami and Makoto running to catch up. They both looked concerned, as well as a little guilty. Usagi sighed, doing her best to let go of her negative feelings, and smiled at them in greeting, "Finish up?"

"Uh...Yeah..." Makoto began slowly.

Ami bit her lower lip, seeming unable to say anything at all.

"I'm not mad. Not really," Usagi sighed, "I just don't like this. I don't mean to take anything out on you."

"I like it less and less," Makoto burst letting out a rushed breath. She tucked her arms behind her head, and frowned, her body sagging as she spoke, "It feels really... crummy to be inviting him somewhere with how sincere and friendly he is! I feel like we're playing a mean prank."

"I'm feeling the same too," Ami admitted. Tentatively, she reached out and placed a hand on Usagi's arm, "I understand how you're feeling. It's just that... if we don't look into this, and something terrible were to happen as a result. I'd feel worse."

"We all would," Makoto agreed with a sigh

Usagi smiled at the both of them, "Thanks... thanks for understanding. Let's go to Rei's... she had a meeting for today."

The group nodded and fell back into easy step with each other. Now that they had spoken about how they were feeling, their group felt less tense. With the load on their shoulders a little lighter, they headed in the direction of Rei's shrine.

 


 

 

Kuwabara settled against his pillows, alone now that the girls were gone. He had removed his watch and was turning it over in his hands. He should call Koenma. He needed to talk to this friends, he realized that now. But... Kuwabara didn't want to be pulled off the mission.

'What good is there in worrying? Even if I can't pursue the mission, it's not like Koenma can make me quit the job I have. And even if I'm pulled from the mission officially... since when has being told "no," ever stopped me?' Kuwabara reasoned quietly.

Coming to a decision Kuwabara clicked one of the buttons and was surprised to hear Usagi' voice playback, "I'm sorry Mr. Kuwabara, I've got a lot of homework-" With quite a bit of fumbling, Kuwabara managed to turn it off, and lightly cursed as he dropped it in his lap. Fishing it out of his covers, he turned the device over in his hands.

"Shit did I record the girls the whole time they were here?" Kuwabara mumbled.

Examining the watch, Kuwabara noticed a hairline fracture in the corner of the screen. "Shit," Kuwabara sighed, "Musta busted it when I fell..."

Sighing, and hoping Koenma wouldn't be too upset over it, Kuwabara pressed a button that would hopefully call Koenma. To his relief, he saw Koenma's face pop up on the screen. Koenma looked surprised, his eyes were wide, and his hair mussed. Not paying it any mind, Kuwabara greeted him, "Hey Koenma, I just called to let you know... what's uhm... going on I guess."

Koenma's face suddenly disappeared, and the screen went black.

Kuwabara frowned a little puzzled, "Uh Koenma? Hello? Shit, Koenma I think I busted the watch. I'll try to call you on my phone, but just in case you're hearing this... I got attacked by something the other day. Some sort of monster... I'm not... too hurt, but I am in the hospital in Tokyo. I know, I know... it sounds bad. But I'm fine. I'll be released soon. I just called to let you know. Please don't pull me from the mission, I know you said if I got hurt, you'd come to get me, but don't. I'm fine. Let me know if you've heard from Urameshi and the guys, they should be back soon. I'll have my phone on if you decide to call. Uh, bye?"

Kuwabara clicked the button on the watch frowning. The screen had remained black the whole time, but he was sure he had heard some sort of loud noises in the background, like a movie or something. Unsure if Koenma even got his message, Kuwabara set the watch on a small table next to his bed. 

"Mr. Kuwabara?" a woman's voice called, followed by a knock on the door.

"Yes?" He answered looking up towards the door.

With the clicking of heels, a nurse came in pushing a wheelchair. She smiled at Kuwabara, and immediately launched into a bubbly bit of conversation, "The doctor wants to see you, and he thought it'd also be nice if you where wheeled to see him. That way you can get some time out of this stuffy room, huh?"

Kuwabara shrugged, "Yeah sure, though really this room is fine."

With gentle hands, she helped Kuwabara get into the wheelchair, and then delicately placed a knit blanket on his lap.

"You know my mother and I knitted a lot of the blankets here," the woman said, striking up a casual conversation.

"Oh yeah?" Kuwabara played along, settling himself awkwardly in his chair. He honestly was a bit too big for the wheelchair and his knees bent awkwardly.

Not seeming to notice Kuwabara's struggle, or not caring, the woman cheerily went on, "Oh yes! It's good to have a nice relaxing hobby! Do you have any hobbies, Mr. Kuwabara?"

Their conversation continued as she guided Kuwabara from the room, her overly cheerful voice echoing back towards the room. On the table, the watch sat alone, the screen still dark. And then, for a moment the screen turned white, and a choking sound echoed for a few seconds from the screen. There was silence, and then a chilling name was spoken in a grasping, lustful hiss:

"Epsilon..."

 


 

End of chapter 7

 

Chapter Text

As Genkai had suggested, it did seem Lyrae was patient enough to wait for Kurama, Hiei, and Yusuke to get plenty of rest. Three days passed and the boys fully recovered.

But then a week went by, and another few days...they were rolling past their third week with no sighting from their mysterious attacker.

"I can't believe the fucker hasn't popped back up!" Yusuke growled, pacing Genkai's porch like a caged lion.

"We can't sense him, we can't smell him, we can't find him anywhere. It's like looking for a ghost," Kurama sighed, sitting on the steps and out of the way of Yusuke's storming path.

"Looking for a ghost, huh? Then what we really need is Kuwabara," Hiei grunted.

Kurama and Yusuke both looked to the shorter man, surprised. Hiei was leaning against a post, eyes closed and frowning. Sensing he was being looked at he turned towards the two, looking Yusuke directly in the eye, "Don't you think we should contact Kuwabara? We've been back long enough, and we've waited long enough. We should call Kuwabara."

Yusuke growled audibly, and marched off the porch, heading away from the shrine. He said nothing as he stormed away from the pair.

"What's the matter, detective? Do you have no reply? Are you just going to keep running away!?" Hiei barked, "I thought Kuwabara was your friend. Don't be such a coward, and call him. Whatever is going on with you, sort it out!"

Yusuke's shoulders flinched, and he stopped walking for a moment. There was tension in his back, and his hands were trembling. Hastily, he shoved his fists into his pockets, calling back, "I'm going to see Keiko." And with no further explanation stormed away.

Kurama glanced at Hiei, side-eying his shorter friend. "Well, that wasn't delicate at all. I can't recall seeing you so upset...and on Kuwabara's behalf too. You must finally be admitting that you like Kuw-"

"Shut it!" Hiei snapped, letting out a frustrated growl, "Just shut up. I'm tired of this tip-toeing around. We're not doing anyone any favors by not contacting Kuwabara. And Yusuke is also worried about that human's mission, so why avoid calling?"

"Things have been strained," Kurama agreed, ignoring Hiei's aggressive tone, "Since the incident, Yusuke has struggled. We all have."

Hiei snorted but did not deny the change going on in the group.

"We want to protect Kuwabara more. More than we ever wanted to in the past. Don't deny it, I won't. You three have become the center of my world, and neither of you is interchangeable. While you fools will be too stubborn to admit it, I'm not. Since the dealings with Harumi we've all been at a loss for what to do, how to act," Kurama spoke calmly, turning his face towards the sky, "Harumi maimed Kuwabara...and in doing so she hurt us. We have gone into many a battle and come out on top, despite all odds. This is one of the few times we have actual lasting repercussions, and things have changed."

"That's bullshit," Hiei muttered.

"It's not," Kurama argued, turning his intense green eyes on Hiei, "When your arm was injured back in the dark tournament, things changed for us too. You left, disappearing with hardly a word. Kuwabara's power disappeared, and Yusuke was despondent. One of us can't be suffering without it affecting all of us. When you rejoined us, that was when our group was able to pull itself together. It was like that then, and it's like that now. Kuwabara was harmed and it has left a permanent wound. And none of us can stand that."

Hiei glared at the ground finding he had nothing to say to Kurama's words.

"...Should we contact him ourselves?" Hiei finally asked, his words hesitant and unsure.

"No...I think you're right in that Yusuke should contact him. Yusuke is dealing with this harder than us. We are ready to make the steps in fixing this, it's Yusuke who now needs to stop holding back."

 


 

 

Yusuke had a storm brewing inside him. He wished Lyrae would show his stupid fucking mug so he could unleash it on him. He wished Kuwabara was here now too. Then maybe he could punch Kuwabara-not as hard as he would punch Lyrae but, he'd still punch Kuwabara.

Punching him in the face always cheered him up.

And if he punched Kuwabara, Kuwabara would punch him back. The two would have an all-out brawl. Yusuke would get petty, and pull Kuwabara by his hair, and Kuwabara would whine about that being cheating. And then Kuwabara would twist, and use his height to his advantage to flip Yusuke off, and pin him to the ground. He'd probably say something stupid, like asking Yusuke if he liked the taste of dirt.

And they would laugh, and laugh, and laugh...

Yusuke wanted to hold Kuwabara in his arms. He wanted to hug him and call him stupid. Kuwabara would ruffle Yusuke's hair and point out he was the one going to college while Yusuke slacked off. If he could just see Kuwabara again if he could touch him maybe he would be able to talk to him. To promise that things would always be the same. That even if Kuwabara limped, or didn't have a leg that nothing was different. If he still wanted to fight, Yusuke would be there. He would help him. Things would be the same, no... they'd be better.

If Yusuke could see Kuwabara again... he'd tell him everything.

"Yusuke?" Keiko's voice cut through the darkness clouding his mind, and he shook himself awake. Glancing up, he realized he'd just walked past her family's ramen shop. 

"Keiko..."

The girl smiled at him, though she could hardly be called a girl. Womanhood had blossomed well on Keiko. She was shapely, and beautiful, just as she had always been in youth, but with an older quality that suited her well. Her hair was short again, like when they were in middle-school. She was a little stronger, a little more muscular, which made her all the more intimidating when she was mad. But she laughed the same, she smiled the same... she was still Keiko.

Even with a gold band glittering on her finger.

"You look like you're having a meltdown!" She said glancing him over, "One second..." she turned from Yusuke calling back into her family's shop, "Hey Hon'? I need to go for a bit, watch the shop!" She waved to someone inside and then quickly approached Yusuke slipping her arm in his.

"I know something is wrong, it's written all over your face... let's go to the park and talk about it."

Yusuke sighed, smiling helplessly at the woman who knew him so well. Pressing his head to her shoulder he grinned, "It's good to see you."

"You saw me just last week, and you were pissed then too," Keiko sighed. Walking steadily ahead, not caring who saw the two practically cuddling in the street, Keiko continued speaking, "You won't tell me everything that's going on, beyond some "asshole after my life again, rawr!" But I guess you're always in danger," Keiko made a face as she misquoted Yusuke, "But you're clearly bothered... just talk to me Yusuke. You know you want to, and you'll feel better."

"Why did you ever waste your time on a guy like me?" Yusuke sighed.

"Who knows," Keiko said shrugging, and forcing Yusuke to move his head, "I should have ditched you when I had the chance... but I just can't." She smiled at Yusuke her eyes twinkling, "You're my childhood friend after all... my best friend."

A tiny stab of guilt washed over Yusuke, and he sighed, "You're the best, better than I deserve."

Keiko frowned as she steered Yusuke into the park, "Hey... I don't like that kind of talk. You're not seriously putting yourself down are you?"

Yusuke didn't say anything, and Keiko rolled her eyes, understanding dawning, "Ah I see. This is about Kuwabara. And this is about how you feel?"

Yusuke couldn't answer.

"Yusuke Urameshi, if this is about what I think it is, I'm going to slap you!" Keiko snapped. Yusuke cringed, and Keiko let out a long frustrated growl, "Yusuke! I told you years ago I would wait for an answer! And you delivered it! Just because the answer wasn't what I wanted, doesn't mean you lost me, or that I resent you, or whatever you guilt yourself with! We are still friends, and I love you. Nothing is going to change that!"

Stopping to slump against a tree Yusuke looked at Keiko. Brown hair, chocolate eyes, a beautiful flushed face. Passionate, intelligent, kind... he should have loved her.

It should have been her.

 


 

When Yusuke was twenty he had told Keiko he didn't know how he felt about her. He loved her, she was his treasured friend, his confidant, his family... But he didn't know if he was in love with her. He did not feel that romantic flutter that she had often described to him. 

"You deserve better than that answer!" Yusuke had said, embarrassed and ashamed.

Keiko had looked sad, but smiled at Yusuke patiently, "Maybe, but... don't you deserve to make your own choice? If you don't love me, you can't force yourself. I wouldn't want that. Yusuke... I'm not going anywhere. We can still be... friends right?"

Yusuke had looked away from her gripping his legs, "You deserve better. You deserve to be loved."

Keiko frowned with concern and took Yusuke's hands. "Hey," She whispered giving Yusuke a stern look, "I do deserve to be loved. But who says it has to be by you? Do you think I'm only alive to be loved by someone? You know me better than that! And I know you. You're someone who likes to be free. And freedom for you is fighting and laughing your head off. I like watching you when you're happy Yusuke... don't force yourself to be with me and make me your prison."

Yusuke would only ever freely cry in front of Keiko. 

Crying was a weakness, but it could still be ripped out of him. Like a dam bursting, his tears could come if something terrible enough happened, but with Keiko, his tears came easy and fell like rain. Hating himself, and angry at the feelings he didn't have, he cried at that time. He really didn't deserve her understanding.

Years passed and Yusuke didn't have an answer. Keiko was his friend, his oldest friend... but his heart did not yearn for hers. Keiko went to school and graduated faster than most people. It took her three years to have a degree under her belt, and then she went back to work in her family's shop. She could go on, try something new. She had the brains for it, but she claimed that she wanted to stay close to home for now.

Yusuke was twenty-four when Keiko brought a man named Akira Hanzou over and introduced them. They were dating. Yusuke felt no gut-wrenching fit of jealousy, no self-loathing of missed opportunities. He only threatened that if he ever made Keiko unhappy the man would lose his balls. He was happy for Keiko. He really was. And Akira wasn't a bad guy. A bit of a brain, and a pacifist to boot, but he was high spirited and easy to talk to. He seemed perpetually half scared of Yusuke and his friends, but Yusuke kind of liked it that way. He and Keiko were still friends, same as always.

And then she married Akira, and Yusuke had been her "groom of honor." He had felt people staring at him, expecting him to react. To be bothered by what had happened. But he was really happy. Keiko deserved to be loved. She deserved to be treasured, and worshipped, and loved endlessly. He only hoped that she was really happy. But looking at her shining face on her wedding day, he was sure she was.

But he was still confused with himself.

He thought... had always thought he and Keiko would end up together. But they hadn't. And she had said he didn't need to love her, but she had cried. There had been a whole period of time where she could not meet with him. She needed to get over him she claimed. And when she was done mourning, she and he fell back in easy step with each other. But he had hurt her, and the guilt he felt was strong. But she never seemed to resent him, and after time found Akira. She seemed happy. But he still wondered, why couldn't he love her?

Part of him wondered if something was wrong with him. Perhaps because he wasn't really a human he couldn't love like one. He just didn't know.

Harumi attacked them the following year.

"Just let me... LET ME SEE HIM!" Yusuke cried, screaming as Hiei roughly pulled him away.

"We already lost him for a moment. We can't have any distractions!" Kurama's impatiently whispered, storming back into a darkened room. His eyes were wide and traumatized, but his mouth was set in a determined line. Yomi followed after Kurama, tilting his face towards Yusuke, "Your shouting is no help for Kuwabara, or for us. We need to work and work in peace. You are... understandably angry. Leave, and work off your anger."

Hiei had dragged Yusuke away, and the two fought. Yusuke's moves were sloppy, and soon he was so angered and incensed he turned from Hiei and attacked the forest around him. He ripped up the grass, tore up bushes, and punched trees until they splintered. A storm was exploding inside him, and it demanded destruction to be sated.

Kuwabara was so injured. In such a short time, no longer than a day Harumi had tormented Kuwabara. Kuwabara's agonized face and bloody form haunted Yusuke in a way that it hadn't before. Kuwabara had been injured before, he had even been tortured in front of Yusuke at the hands of Rando. But it had only been for minutes. Kuwabara had only been hurting for a short period of time...

And then Yusuke would charge in and put a stop to whoever was harming his friend.

This time he had been too late.

He had arrived... and it had been too late.

Yusuke fired off a blast of energy, downing a section of trees in his fury. He then collapsed to the ground, shaking like a frightened child, tears pouring down his face. Hiei had watched in a stunned horrified awe. But he too must have been reeling from the sight of Kuwabara. 

After all they had both held Kuwabara in their arms when his heart had stopped.

It was Kurama who had brought him back. Kurama who had known what plants to sew into Kuwabara and stabilize him. Kurama who knew how to do CPR. Kurama who screamed instructions to Yusuke and Hiei, forcing their hands to work. Forcing them to help bring Kuwabara back from the dead. Without Kurama's direction, they would have never been able to save Kuwabara that terrible day.

It was almost a full day before Hiei and Yusuke were called back to the shrine.

When Kurama and Yomi had completed their work, they claimed Kuwabara would be fighting for his life. A regular hospital was out of the question. With everything that had been done, a hospital would do no good. Instead, a room at Genkai's was made up where Yukina, Yomi, and Kurama worked in shifts. Yusuke would not be removed from Kuwabara's side again.

He stayed and waited for Kuwabara to wake up. He would wipe Kuwabara's brow and hold the man's hand as he screamed from fever. He held Kuwabara down when seizures took him and changed bandages whenever Kurama or Yomi asked. On the ninth night, Kurama who had not slept in days, whispered, "We have extracted all that we could. If any more is taken...I don't think he could endure. We'll have to heal up his wounds as it is now."

"But his leg..." Hiei had whispered, fists clenched tight.

"It will hurt him for a long time. It will heal... and he will limp. There's something else that he will have to learn to do..." Yomi was speaking as he washed blood from his hands.

Kuwabara's blood.

Yusuke could hear no more. He only could look at Kuwabara. He let the others talk, and the time pass around him. He laid near Kuwabara, providing the injured man's clammy body with warmth from his own. Resting his face on his propped up fist, Yusuke watched Kuwabara. Kuwabara was ashen, and his lips cracked and dry. A dark shadow had sunken into his face, and even in sleep, he looked pained. Despite all this, this was the best Kuwabara had looked in days. Kuwabara was slowly starting to look like himself.

Yusuke did not dare look at Kuwabara's leg.

Would Kuwabara cry when he awoke and realized what had happened? Would he be aware at first, what he had lost? Or would he smile and laugh in his relief at seeing his friends, trying to dismiss and cover up his pain. Yusuke reached out and brushed the tip of his fingers over Kuwabara's cheek. If Kuwabara cried, Yusuke would touch him like this, and wipe the tears away. Yusuke brushed a thumb over the cold skin beneath Kuwabara's eye, holding the man's face in silence. If Kuwabara cried, Yusuke would kiss those tears away, and thread his fingers into Kuwabara's copper hair. He would never let him go.

A shudder ran through Yusuke and he looked around the room startled. He was alone. Hours had passed and he'd been left alone with Kuwabara. They were alone, in the quiet of the makeshift medical room, Kuwabara dead to the world around him, when Yusuke realized he was in love with him.

He fled.

Yusuke ran, letting his feet guide him. He didn't really know where he was going at first, he was just in such a panic.

He had never been in love with someone before. Never thought he'd feel it. He loved his mother, he loved his friends, and he loved Genkai. They were all different types of love, but they weren't like the love that had just struck him so strongly. 

What had just erupted inside him had been growing slowly, like a flower. Growing stronger and stronger every day, and tonight it had bloomed. And now it was a fire burning inside him, one that he hadn't thought he'd feel. Kuwabara was a fighter, he was a friend, he was a punk. That was who he was.

But now something else was attached. Kuwabara was...

He needed Keiko.

Climbing a tree into her bedroom was easy, and familiar. He'd done something similar as a child. With nerveless fingers, he knocked on Keiko's window. A light came on in her room, and her curtains were brushed aside. She looked surprised, but quickly she let him in, tugging him inside. Akira was not home, off somewhere on a business trip. Yusuke was grateful, for he doubted the man would have liked seeing Yusuke come in through their bedroom window.

"Yusuke what is it? Is it Kuwabara?" Keiko was asking, her voice choked with emotion. She, of course, knew what had been going on with Kuwabara. She and the rest of the girls had been staying with Shizuru in shifts, keeping the poor woman sane. 

"He's going to make it. His leg... may never heal. But he'll make it," Yusuke managed to say, unable to look at her.

He heard her sigh in relief, and then there was a pause. "You're still upset," She whispered, tone clearly confused, "What's wrong...why are you upset? Yusuke?"

Her hands fell to his shoulders, and he felt shame twist in his gut. "It should have been you!" He choked out, "It should be you that I... that I love. It should be you! You've always been there, you have always been my friend. I was never alone, you were always there. It should have been you! My heart should beat for you!"

Anger, confusion, and despair felt like a heavy mantle weighted on his shoulders, and he fell to his knees hanging his head.

"It should have been you..."

"But it's Kuwabara right?" 

Keiko's voice was especially gentle.

She knelt in front of him, taking his hands in hers, and looked at him with a gentle, gentle expression. She smiled, "You're in love with Kuwabara."

Yusuke cringed, embarrassed at the accusation, and terrified that it was true.

"It's okay. I... I started to think so years ago. Even before you told me you didn't love me the way I wanted. There's something between you two. And it's something strong and good. You don't have to be upset, there's nothing wrong with how you're feeling," Keiko said with a reassuring smile and a squeeze of his hands. 

"I... I don't know how to deal with this!" Yusuke admitted, sitting down in defeat, "He's...he's Kuwabara! I shouldn't..." 

"Shouldn't what?" Keiko asked, frowning, "Is there really anything wrong with it? What has to change just because you love him? Things may be different, but they can still be good. You won't know if you stay quiet. Things didn't work out for me..." Keiko gently took Yusuke's shoulders, "But even when it didn't work out, we stayed friends didn't we? If things don't work out... who says you lose anyone? Kuwabara isn't so shallow as to stop being friends with you if he doesn't feel the same... and if things go well..."

Yusuke looked away, a blush creeping up his neck into his face,

"If things go well they can only get better," Keiko promised.

Yusuke bowed his head, feeling dizzy from his thoughts and his racing heart, "I'm still... freaked out."

"Just take your time, you don't have to rush," Keiko soothed, running her hands down Yusuke's arms encouragingly.

"Keiko... you..you...I should have fallen for you," Yusuke whispered feeling slightly bitter.

Keiko smacked Yusuke on the back of his head hard. Yusuke winced, hands flying to the lump she surely created.

"I'm not going to be anyone's number two. I deserve to be someone's number one, and I have that. So quit apologizing!" She snapped, folding her arms stubbornly.

Yusuke had smiled apologetically, and when he felt he could, returned to Genkai's shrine. It was early in the morning and Kuwabara still slept alone, flat on his back. A sheen of sweat was coating his body. Yusuke plucked up a rag and toweled Kuwabara off, wiping the sweat from the larger man with surprising care. He looked at Kuwabara, finally taking in the sight of Kuwabara's leg.

It was misshapen, and would surely be scarred. In all likelihood, Kuwabara would never be able to fight again.

"I'll protect you," Yusuke growled, laying next to Kuwabara, sharing his warmth with the man, "I will protect you. You won't need to fight again...you'll have me."

And with that promise, Yusuke buried his feelings deep. Kuwabara didn't need to know how he felt, those feelings would only be a burden. Kuwabara was in love with Yukina after all... but Yusuke could protect Kuwabara and keep him safe. Never again would he let someone like Harumi threaten Kuwabara's life.

Never again.

 

 


 

 

"Hey!" Keiko shouted in Yusuke's face, snapping him from his thoughts, "Yusuke Urameshi! I won't stand for this! There is nothing wrong with what you're feeling!"

Keiko took Yusuke by his wrists, squeezing them tightly, "Yusuke... just talk to Kuwabara. Tell him. I'm telling you, you may be surprised by his answer."

"I won't be surprised," Yusuke sighed, "He and Yukina-"

"Oh for the love of-" Keiko threw up her hands, and put them on her hips glaring hard at Yusuke, "They are not together! That ship sailed a long time ago!"

Yusuke could only blink in confusion.

Keiko rolled her eyes letting out a guttural growl. She had lost all patience, "They went on a date, and both of them agreed they weren't what each other wanted. Kuwabara won't say all that happened, but that Yukina is in love with someone else, and he fully supports her. If you want to know what was said, you could talk to Yukina, or better yet Kuwabara!"

Yusuke just stared at Keiko. He could tell he was making a ridiculous face, "Kuwabara and Yukina...they're not... he gave up on her?"

Keiko nodded, "Yes. You would know that if you talked to him more, instead of checking in on him, and running away like you boys have been doing!"

"We talk!" Yusuke snapped, irritated with Keiko's attitude, "We just... I-"

"You just leave him behind! You come back from a mission, or demon world, give him a hello, ask how he feels, and then leave. He's a regular bird in a gilded cage!" Keiko snapped, "If you three would just talk to him, you'd realize that why you all think you're protecting him, you're just leaving him alone! Do you know how lonely that is for him?! You need to talk properly to him! All of you!" She let out a heaving breath, looking less tense now that she'd said all that had been on her mind. A thought seemed to strike her, and Keiko's face softened for a moment, "Have you called him?"

"...Not yet," Yusuke admitted, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Keiko sighed, "You are going to wear me out!" She slapped a hand to her forehead before running it back through her hair. She glanced at Yusuke's troubled face, "It's because of that...that guy who showed up at the shrine right?"

Yusuke nodded, "Yes. He's still out there and wants to kill me. But hey, who doesn't these days?"

Keiko shook her head, "You are being careful, right?"

"He hasn't shown up at all," Yusuke sighed, "How do you be careful with someone who won't show his face? We can't sense him, or get a scent. He just...disappeared."

Keiko frowned, and tugged Yusuke's arm, "Well, come have some ramen at the shop. Put aside this weird guit, and everything else and just enjoy a bowl. But I mean it, talk to Kuwabara. About everything."

Yusuke nodded without looking at her. Everyone was on his case today, and with a petulant sulk, he was starting to think they were all right. He needed to talk to Kuwabara. They needed to sort this out... and Yusuke had a lot that needed to be said. He still couldn't believe Kuwabara and Yukina... weren't going to be a thing. He couldn't believe in all this time Kuwabara hadn't told him. Why hadn't he?

'I can ask Yukina...'  Yusuke thought as he was led back towards Keiko's family business. 'Maybe she will tell me what happened between them. Damn... is that too invasive? Fuck!'

"Fuck!" Yusuke hissed, aggravated with himself.

Keiko patiently squeezed his arm, "Whatever you're thinking can be put on hold. Come eat some ramen, you dork."

Yusuke said no more, and let Keiko lead him inside, setting aside his many questions for now.

 


 

When Yusuke returned to the shrine, his head was still spinning but his belly was full, and nothing could be too bad if you were full of ramen. As he was about halfway up the steps he noticed a familiar tall strong figure, and called out, "Shizuru!"

The woman paused and turned around, eyes falling on Yusuke. She smiled and waited for him to catch up.

"Well if it isn't my second favorite dimwit," She said with a chuckle.

"Hey! Whose the first?" Yusuke asked bumping his shoulder into the taller woman's arm.

"Kazuma of course," She answered as she began walking again.

"Ah. Talk to him recently?" Yusuke asked, trying to sound casual.

"Not in a few days, which is why I'm here. I'm worried and I thought maybe Genkai or Yukina had gotten more news," Shizuru sighed.

Yusuke frowned. While they had not called Kuwabara, Kuwabara had been calling Genkai and Yukina every so often. He also apparently called his sister every day, even if it was just to leave a message on her phone. To hear he had stopped, was unsettling.

"You guys talk to him yet?" Shizuru asked giving Yuske a sideways glance.

"No...but I'm going to call him today. I've gotten the message. I can't keep running away," Yusuke sighed.

Shizuru slapped Yusuke hard on the back, "Cheer up. Kazu has been doing the same. All of you boys have been dancing around each other for a year now. It's good that you finally get it."

Yusuke snorted, smiling a little.

As the two approached the shrine, they could see Botan and Koenma on the porch, talking to Kurama, Hiei, Genkai, and Yukina. They all looked very animated and excited.

"Hey! What's going on?" Yusuke called out, waving to get their attention.

Koenma snapped his head over towards the pair, and actually began to jog forward, "Yusuke! Perfect timing! I was just saying I found out some information on Lyrae! And Epsilon! It was a classified file-" Koenma suddenly stopped so hard he almost fell over. His mouth fell open and his eyes were wide. With a face frozen in horror, he could only point at something behind Yusuke.

Yusuke spun, and to his shock saw the man they had all been waiting for.

Lyrae.

He had finally shown back up, but he now had Shizuru by her throat in one hand and had one of her wrists in the other. He was tugging on her arm, clearly near to pulling it out of socket, while his nose was pressed down to the struggling woman's neck.

"You smell...of him. Of Epsilon..." the man purred. He closed his eyes and inhaled, Shizuru shuddering in disgust as he did so.

Yusuke growled, and fired off a rei-gun in Lyrae's face, the man dropping Shizuru as the blue energy hit him. Yusuke rushed forward and gathered Shizuru in his arms before leaping backwards towards his friends.

"That was a little close to my face!" Shizuru growled irritated. Her arm was hanging unnaturally and Yusuke cringed. Her arm had been dislocated... possibly because of his rei-gun.

Yukina appeared over Yusuke's shoulder, "I got her! Please go help the others!" Yukina forced Yusuke away with a hurried brush of hands, and took Shizuru in her arms. Her red eyes were swimming with concern, and her hands glowed as she began the healing process on Shizuru's shoulder.

"Sorry," Yusuke blurted out quickly, before running to join Kurama, Hiei, and Genkai who had taken defensive positions

Lyrae looked very much the same as when he first appeared. Ashen and hulking, his hair falling in golden shaggy waves. Though he had taken Yusuke's rei-gun straight to his face, he did not appear injured. Instead, a delighted smile was now twisted on his face, and pitch black energy was radiating from his body. "I smell him so strongly now... EPSILON! COME ON OUT! YOU CAN NOT HIDE YOURSELF FROM ME!" Lyrae roared looking around wildly as he began to walk forward.

Yusuke growled with irritation and dashed forward, jumping towards the man, "I got your Epsilon-right here! SHOTGUN!" Yusuke punched his fist towards Lyrae sending a spray of blue spheres towards Lyrae. They found their target, and this time it seemed to cause some damage. The man howled with pain and looked up at Yusuke.

"You will not best me, knight!" Lyrae snarled leaping high into the air.

He met Yusuke in the air and slammed a fist into Yusuke's face. Yusuke was shocked at the jolt of pain that rushed through his face, and the sheer amount of force behind Lyrae's fist. Yusuke snarled like an animal and shoved both his feet into Lyrae's gut and kicked himself away from the man. The momentum caused Lyrae to fall as well, though he caught himself, and managed to land on all fours.

Yusuke fell more unstably, but Kurama leaped up, catching him, and helped Yusuke find his balance when they came back to the ground.

"Bastard's real fucking strong," Yusuke muttered angrily.

"Then we should rush him all at once," Kurama whispered eyes trained on Lyrae.

"Let'g go...let's go now!" Hiei hissed.

And as one, Kurama, Yusuke, and Hiei were charging. Fists flying, sword slashing, and whip striking out at Lyrae in one fluid motion. Lyrae's eyes glowed that eerie black with the specks of gold, and his body moved with inhuman speed. He dodged most of the attacks, deflecting Hiei's sword with his bare hands. Catching Kurama's whip, Lyrae pulled the redhead to him, before smashing Kurama in between his eyes with his forehead before releasing the man to fall crashing to the ground. He caught Yusuke's last fist, pulling the man close, and smiled at Yusuke with ruthless gleaming eyes.

"Got ya asshole!" Yusuke roared, a wave of spiritual energy exploding from his hand.

Lyrae cried out as the blast engulfed his hand, and sent him flying like he'd been caught in an explosion. He flew back and fell several feet away, landing in a heap.

Kurama struggled to regain his footing, his nose gushing with blood, "He is strong."

"Not that strong," Hiei growled defiantly, though his eyes were looking at his blade with some confusion. He hadn't been able to pierce Lyrae's skin at all, though he had definitely made contact.

Genkai who had hung back, guarding Yukina, Shizuru, Koenma, and Botan, was taken by surprise when Koenma suddenly broke away from the group.

"Get back here you idiot!" Genkai shouted after him.

Koenma ran towards Yusuke and the others, calling out, "Yusuke! Lyrae's weakness-"

But Lyrae was up, and sent a kick to Koenma's back, sending the demi-god flying through the air. He then pointed a hand at Koenma, and black mist surrounded the man, and Koenma fell hard and fast to the ground. The stone beneath him cracked as he fell, and Koenma let out a terrible rasp, blood spurting from his mouth as he choked.

"KOENMA!" Botan screamed, Genkai holding the woman's arm to keep her from running to the fallen man.

"You bastard!" Yusuke snarled rushing forward to attack Lyrae again.

The man whipped around him, sending his arm in a wild wave. Black ribbons of energy poured from his arm, and out at Yusuke. Yusuke used both his arms to shield his face and chest, and the ribbons of powers slid off his body. While he did not feel hurt, his body was made heavy and he was forced to kneel as the power brought him down and caused him to skid back. The ribbons of energy did not stop at Yusuke though.

The energy continued onwards, and Genkai barely had time to throw up a shield to protect the group against it. Unfortunately, her shield had gone up too late, and therefore only provided cover for herself and Botan. A black streak of energy headed for Shizuru and Yukina, and the taller woman wrapped her arms around Yukina. Quickly she turned her back towards the blast, shielding the ice maiden from the attack. It struck Shizuru squarely in the back and sent both women flying. They flew through the sliding doors of Genkai's shrine, the sound of breaking wood echoing loudly from the collision.

"Yukina!" Hiei gasped, turning from battle to run towards the shrine.

Koenma was pulling himself up, leaning heavily on his forearms. His ribs were surely broken, and he coughed, wiping his face on the shoulder of his jacket. And then Koenma's watch, a rather large square-face watch, lit up and Kuwabara's voice came out of it.

"Hey Koenma, I just called to let you know... what's uhm... going on I guess."

Lyrae's face went slack in shock, and a pulse of dark energy oozed from under his feet and spread outwards towards everyone. Immediately, everyone present at the shrine was forced on their belly as the gravity around them seemed to increase. Yusuke was knocked flat at first, but with a scream of outrage, and eyes flashing, he managed to push himself up on all fours to watch Lyrae.

Lyrae swiftly moved towards Koenma, unaffected by whatever he was doing. He stood over Koenma, looking down at Koenma's wrist, black mist radiating over Koenma as the man was pressed hard into the ground.

Kuwabara's voice continued to speak from the watch,  "Uh Koenma? Hello? Shit, Koenma I think I busted the watch. I'll try to call you on my phone, but just in case you're hearing this... I got attacked by something the other day. Some sort of monster... I'm not... too hurt, but I am in the hospital in Tokyo. I know, I know... it sounds bad. But I'm fine. I'll be released soon. I just called to let you know. Please don't pull me from the mission, I know you said if I got hurt, you'd come to get me, but don't. I'm fine. Let me know if you've heard from Urameshi and the guys, they should be back soon. I'll have my phone on if you decide to call. Uh, bye?"

Lyrae grabbed Koenma by his wrist and hauled him up. Koenma winced as he was held dangling from his wrist, while Lyrae stared with reverence at the watch. After a long moment of staring, he snatched the watch from Koenma and pressed it to his lips. In a lustful, longing tone he whispered, "Epsilon..."

His tone sent waves of disgust through Yusuke's stomach.

Lyrae closed his hand over the watch, and threw back his head and laughed, "So...I've found him! I've found my Epsilon!" He turned his delighted face towards Koenma, "You have given me a gift! I will find this Tokyo and take back what is mine. My precious baby brother... For your kindness... I will spare your life."

Lyrae shifted his hand so that he was holding Koenma by the cuff of his shirt, "Although...I can't let you go spilling any of my secrets."

"NO, DON'T!" Yusuke screamed.

Lyrae did not abide by Yusuke's cry, and lifting Koenma high in the air, he brought the man hard on the ground, splitting Koenma's head open like an egg. At that moment the gravity returned to normal, and Lyrae disappeared with a fine mist of black smoke. As Botan's screams echoed over the shrine, Yusuke could only stare at the unmoving form of Koenma, as a glowing white blood oozed from beneath his head.

Yusuke was in shock. People were running past him, rushing to Koenma. He could hear Hiei pulling himself back up and running towards Yukina, screaming her name. He blinked, feeling as if he was caught in a slow-motion segment of film. Lyrae was not after Yusuke. This dangerous man had found what he was looking for.

Lyrae was after Kuwabara.

 


 

End of chapter 8

 

 

Chapter Text

The shrine was in chaos.

The moment Koenma's head had hit the ground, the clouds darkened and the wind picked up. The forest around the shrine moved, the trees rattling from the core. Birds screeched and took to the sky, their shrieking voices filling the area with a sense of ominous terror. Nature itself was at war with what had just transpired.

Botan had dashed to Koenma, screaming for help. They obliged, Yusuke removing his own shirt to tie around Koenma's head. Everyone was moving in jerky, confused clumsy motions. Lyrae had left them all stunned, and uncertain as Koenma's strange blood seeped from his skull.

Koenma's eyes were closed, and his pacifier fell from numb lips as Yusuke tied the shirt tighter against the injury. White glowing blood pooled at his head, but the moment it touched the stone tiles, it disappeared in a soft flash of light.

"What...why is it glowing?!" Yusuke found himself sputtering.

Botan did not answer. Instead, she grabbed Yusuke's hand forcing him to press down harder on Koenma's bloodied head. Her eyes were manic, and her jaw set so tight her lips were cracking. She looked like a woman who would shatter at any moment. As soon as Koenma was secure, she had him pressed to her chest and fumbling to call forth her oar. Yusuke called her name again, but she paid him no attention. She balanced Koenma deftly in her arms, mounted her oar, and zoomed away disappearing in the blue sky. But Koenma was not the only casualty.

Yukina was only stunned, for Shizuru had protected her, and in doing so took most of the damage. Shizuru was a mangled mess, her body twisted, bloodied, and bruised in terrible ways. When her body was moved it creaked in painful ways, and her body moved unnaturally. So much of her seemed to be broken. Hiei and Genkai assisted the ice maiden in silence as they worked at untangling Shizuru's body, setting bones, and wiping away the blood. It was a miracle she was alive, and a blessing that she was unconscious. The pain would have been unbearable. When the group had Shizuru laid out, Yukina set about to quietly healing the woman, tear gems falling from her face to loudly clatter around the floor.

With some of the chaos out of the way, Yusuke growled, "He's after Kuwabara."

"You're sure?" Kurama asked, face tense and voice tight.

"I was right there! Kuwabara's voice came out of that watch and Lyrae practically creamed his jeans-"

"Yusuke, don't be gross-" Genkai said holding up her hand and making a distasteful face.

"You didn't see this guy's face!" Yusuke snapped, "You didn't hear how he said that name, Epsilon. This guy... wants Kuwabara."

"No, he wants Epsilon," Hiei corrected, voice course with his eyes trained on Yukina's teary-eyed expression.

"And he thinks Kuwabara is Epsilon! He said that name as soon as Kuwabara spoke!" Yusuke burst, ready to run to where Kuwabara was right now and frustrated that he was having to spend any time explaining what he'd witnessed Lyrae do.

"...Didn't he say Epsilon was his brother?" Kurama whispered brows furrowed.

"Yes... yes I believe he did," Genkai muttered, hand to her chin.

"Besides being gross, why does any of this matter!?" Yusuke snapped, "We need to go! Go to Tokyo and find Kuwabara! Right now!"

"Yusuke's right," Hiei said getting up, "Kuwabara's in danger and doesn't know it."

"We have to go," Kurama agreed. "If Lyrae thinks Kuwabara is this Epsilon, there's no telling what he wants."

The look on Yusuke's face suggested he knew exactly what Lyrae wanted.

Genkai sighed, and turned to Yukina, "Yukina... please stay and take care of Shizuru. We must go to Tokyo and try to help Kuwabara, we can't wait. If Botan comes back, please let her know where we are." Yukina nodded the smallest of movements, her attention focused on Shizuru, and Shizuru alone.

"Wait, you're coming too?" Yusuke gasped, ready to protest.

Genkai held up a hand, "Neither of us know his address, and the person who does is passed out right now. I'm a psychic. Do you need me to spell it out for you?"

Yusuke sighed, but did not argue further, "Alright, alright! Let's just go."

"To Tokyo."

 


 

 

Like Kuwabara had told Usagi, he was released from the Hospital the next day, and by Wednesday he came back to school.

His students crowded him, offering him snacks, flowers, and other small trinkets. His back was slapped heartily by the boys, and the girls tugged him away to his seat, insisting he sit and not strain himself. Miss Haruna, when they were alone, squeezed his arm tight and told him she was grateful for his safe return. Other teachers reacted the same, with even the principal coming in to slap him on his back. Though, his visit wasn't as appreciated as much.

"I'm glad you showed today, I tried calling you to see how you were doing," The principal said in a tone that suggested he was annoyed and expected an apology.

"I'm very sorry," Kuwabara obliged, "But as it turns out my phone shattered during the accident. I'll get a new one by the weekend, I promise."

"Good, good! You also should update your resume!" The man continued, with an air of snobbery dripping from his voice, "You don't have a number for your parents listed! Don't you think your poor parents should know about what happened?"

Kuwabara resisted the urge to do anything other than smile politely. While he was seething on the inside, he cheerfully explained, "I'm sorry. My sister's number was on my resume, however."

The Principal made a disapproving sound, "But don't you think you should alert your parents-"

"I'm very sorry sir, but my mother has passed, and my father is gone. It's just me and my sister," Kuwabara interrupted. He was still smiling, though the smile made his cheeks hurt. His father was the type to come and go as he pleased. Kuwabara hardly saw him, and never really cared for him as an actual father. He had his sister, and that was enough. But listening to this man lecture him about his... "parents," was a complete joke.

The older man didn't even have the decency to look apologetic, "Oh I see. Well... glad to have you back! Please continue to work hard!" He left with a wave, and when he was gone Kuwabara rolled his eyes. He could only hope he would still have the patience to deal with such an employer. He could only take comfort that this was not his job, just a tempory internship. He had a semester here, and then he could go to a school of his choice.

Kuwabara worked tirelessly throughout the week, politely declining all the help he was being offered. Usagi hovered and checked on him constantly. He assured her he was fine and was looking forward to Sunday. He was unsure why, but something in her eyes seemed a little sad when he mentioned going to the shrine.

Perhaps she was still worried about his leg.

When Sunday came, Kuwabara looked up the tower of stairs that led to Rei Hino's shrine. He was not looking too forward to climbing those stairs, his leg still bothered him. But on the other hand, his leg was practically healed, and his pride wouldn't let him ask for help, or back down from a challenge. Beginning the slow trudge up the stairs, he busied himself with thoughts of Koenma.

He had called him, but Koenma had not returned the call. He had tried again and had only seen darkness. He was sure there was something in the background, some soft noise, perhaps a whisper, but no one answered him, no matter what he said.

'Damn watch really is broken...' Kuwabara thought grumpily, 'And I don't have my new phone set up yet...does Koenma even have a phone for me to call? Should I call Shizuru or Genkai? Would they be able to help me get in touch?'

Kuwabara paused in his climb to rub his knee, his limb aching dully, "I wonder if Urameshi is back..."

He had not received a letter at his apartment, even though he'd asked Shizuru to forward him his mail. Kurama had been mailing him, not often, but still at a steadier pace. He was surprised he still didn't have a letter updating him about his friends. He would have to call Shizuru and ask...but then he also would have to tell her about his injury. Shizuru would know something happened the moment he called, there was no way to hide things from her.

He closed his eyes and moaned under his breath. She would kill him when she found out about all this! Well, actually... she had quite a few reasons to kill him.

Turning his face skywards he sighed, "Koenma save me!" Praying wasn't really a habit of his, especially since he knew Koenma to be kind of a chicken, but hey... anything to avoid the wrath of his older sister!

His leg feeling better, Kuwabara resumed his march upstairs. Seeing the girls would ease his mind of the troubles that waited for him back in his hometown. He could just see the shrine's pillars up ahead when he felt a presence.

Stopping suddenly, he paused feeling out the location of the new entity.

Turning sharply, he called out, "Who's there?"

A giggle answered him, followed by a girl's voice, "Wow! VesVes you were right! He spotted us! He's a funny one!"

"Don't get too close to him girls... he's dangerous."

"Isn't that why you brought us all here? So we could help?"

"Yeah! You're too weak to do it on your own!"

Out of the shadows of the trees lining the shrine steps, four girls slowly materialized. Kuwabara felt his jaw set as he recognized the girl in red. Three other girls, decked out in outfits of green, pink, and blue were at her side, smiling at him. They too had this odd aura that he could not pick up on. Something that was clouded and hidden.

"You again..." Kuwabara accused looking to the girl in red.

She was not smiling like her friends and even seemed mildly afraid.

"He's a big and strong looking man!" the girl in blue giggled, "Could you really not tame him VesVess? Aren't you the Beastmaster?"

"Shut it PallaPalla!" The girl in red growled, "You need to take him seriously. CereCere, JunJun, you too! He's... different from other humans!"

Uncoiling a whip the girl snapped it out at her side, "We attack him together!"

VesVes then charged, but her friends remained behind. They were giggling as if they couldn't believe her claims, not even bothering to give the girl any support.

Kuwabara set his face and shook out his hands. His nerves were awake, and in a moment he had summoned his sword. Lashing it forward he blocked the girl's attack, the girl crying out as a crackle of energy erupted between her whip and his sword. It seemed that her whip was no ordinary whip. His sword could not cut it, but he felt it pierce some sort of dark energy around it like he was cutting through a shield. He pushed back hard sending a wave of his spiritual energy into her to push her back. She cried out as he sent her careening towards her friends, bowling two of the girls over in their shock, only the girl in green had managed to avoid their flying comrade.

"I see..." JunJun whispered, looking back at her friends who were in a tangled heap, "VesVes wasn't lying. You're different." The girl in green smiled at Kuwabara, vicious and blood-thirsty. Her eyes flashed, and she turned her hands in circles producing two long ribbons. "Perhaps you're different enough to have the golden dream mirror!"

The acrobat wrapped the ribbons around Kuwabara, and he was surprised as they completely encircled them. She pulled the ribbons tight, and Kuwabara winced as he was squeezed.

"How about a little shock?" JunJun sneered, a wave of electricity zooming from her arms through her ribbons.

Kuwabara cried out involuntarily as he was shocked. "Damn," Kuwabara managed to hiss as an electric shock ran through him. He glared at the girl, and with a determined growl flexed his muscles as his own energy coursed through his body. With a satisfying rip, he tore the ribbons apart, the girl gasping in shock. Grabbing what remained of the ribbons he tugged the girl hard towards him. She screamed as she was yanked towards Kuwabara, who brought the girl's face hard into his knee.

With a whimper JunJun went down, rolling down the stairs as she held her face, blood dripping from her nose.

"Oh my God, that's so mean!" PallaPalla shouted, "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to hit girls!?"

Kuwabara sent an icy glare to the girl in blue, who quaked at the look.

"I used to never believe you should hit a woman, ever. No matter what the circumstances were... but life taught me that thought was wrong," Kuwabara squeezed his hand on his bad leg, fighting back against memories and old pain.

"Now I believe if you're going to come at me, then I will be prepared to fight back. I don't care who you are! So if you are coming to attack me, then you better come at me with all you got!" Kuwabara held out his other hand and called forth a second sword, his Jigen To. Brandishing both swords, he kept his body low, and leaned most of his weight on his good leg. He could not send energy into his injured limb like last time. While it worked to help run away, it had still failed in the end, and he could not fail again.

CereCere was helping JunJun back to her feet, keeping a trained eye on Kuwabara.

"Girls," CereCere spoke slowly, "I don't think we can fight this man like a normal person... I think we should summon our allies."

"Now you get it!" VesVes growled annoyed. Brandishing her whip, she struck it across her shadow. The shadow extended as the girl cried, "Come forth and grab this man!"

The girls did similar tactics, extending their shadows and asking for help. Kuwabara frowned, taking several steps away. He could only watch with a sinking feeling in his gut, as what looked like four monsters arose from the shadows. They were variously shaped and decorated in wild costumes, but all appeared female. In an odd way, they made him think of performers, like someone you might see at a show. Giggling and brandishing claws and fanged smiles, the creatures called out to him, promising to obey their masters.

"Greatttt...." Kuwabara lamented, his leg throbbing in the anticipation of the strain it would be put under.

Laughing, the four new monsters launched themselves at Kuwabara. Glaring at the creatures, Kuwabara met the first one by burying his Jigen To in its gut. The creature cried out as fractured lines spread throughout its body, but the creature did not explode like the tiger had in the park. Burying his second sword in the stone of the stairs, Kuwabara extended his blade and rolled off the creature's back so that he could bring his sword back into the face of a second monster.

Kuwabara's heart pounded with a sudden thrill. It was as if he'd gone back in time and was fighting alongside his friends again. Though his life was in danger right now, he couldn't help but feel...happy.

"I got him!" PallaPalla squealed, brandishing a cue stick. She took aim at Kuwabara and launched a blue ball directly towards him. Kuwabara released his swords, the blades disappearing in a flash of orange light, and rolled out of the way dodging the ball. It bounced hard into the ground, cracking the stone, before flying back into the girl's face.

"Someone like him...must have the golden dream mirror!" CereCere cried as she fell on Kuwabara's back, taking the taller man by surprise.

Growling Kuwabara reached behind him and caught the girl by the back of bikini top. He threw her away from him and then rolled to dodge an attack from JunJun and another monster.

"You girls need more clothes! You're young ladies, not strippers! And what's with all this talk about golden mirrors? If you want a gold mirror so bad, go buy one!" Kuwabara burst. It was hard enough to fight a woman, (he knew he said he could do it, but it didn't mean he felt right about it) but to be fighting such young girls in such outfits. It was wholly embarrassing.

"You're not our dad!" VesVes scoffed.

"And this is a costume! Not some silly swimsuit!" CereCere sneered, insulted at his comments about her clothes.

The girls and creatures were falling back for an attack. If they worked together... this could prove to be more of a problem. Kuwabara turned, ready to book it for the shrine. If he could just get off these stairs, he'd have more room for fighting. Kuwabara had just started scrambling back to his feet when his left leg trembled beneath him and gave out in a sudden moment. Falling down, Kuwabara felt a hand tangle in his hair as his head was yanked back.

"We got him!" One of the girls cried, relief and excitement coloring her voice.

"JunJun take aim at him!"

While the girls and monsters were scrambling to hold Kuwabara down and do whatever they were planning, Kuwabara was concentrating on expanding his spirit energy. With a shout, his power exploded from his body, launching his attackers away from him. He completely collapsed, trembling as his body was stung from the sheer force of power he had released. His reserves were now low, and his left leg trembled from the strain of the fight. Forced to crawl on all fours, Kuwabara tried to hurry away from the assailants.

"We won't let you get away!" VesVes shouted.

Kuwabara turned seeing the girl headed straight for him; there was no way he could dodge.

"Venus Crescent Beam Smash!"

A golden light crashed into the attacking girl's chest, sending her toppling backward.

"Hold it right there!" a young voice called.

Kuwabara looked at the top of the shrine's steps and spotted a group of six girls and a man in a tuxedo.

"...Okay...what?" Kuwabara found himself saying in disbelief.

First, the four young girls who could summon monsters from the shadows, and now an entirely different set of girls, and man in a tuxedo? Kuwabara was beginning to think Tokyo was the weirdest place he had ever been to.

"Teaming up to attack a kind-hearted man! How shameful can you get?" A girl with blonde hair, standing at the forefront of the group shouted, "I am Sailor Moon, and on behalf of the moon, I will punish you!"

'What the hell is going on?' Kuwabara thought, in shock at the girl's declaration.

The new arrivals then leaped down, attacking the group who had been attacking him. He turned to watch as they pushed the group back with various attacks consisting of fire, water, electricity, and pure raw energy. It was a regular group of superheroes! The man in the tuxedo came to Kuwabara's side and helped him sit up with firm hands on his back and shoulders.

"Can you walk?" The man asked moving Kuwabara's arm to drape over his shoulder. The masked man then secured his other arm around Kuwabara's waist, using his cane to add further support for Kuwabara's weak leg.

"Who are you people? What the heck is going on?" Kuwabara asked, wincing as the masked man helped him to stand.

"That doesn't matter right now. You're in danger, they are after you. We need to get you to safety, and then we can talk," the masked man assured Kuwabara.

The man then tried to help Kuwabara up the stairs. They had only managed to get a few steps further when a scream caught both of their attention. Glancing back they saw that one of the monsters was holding the girl who had shouted earlier by her throat. Another hand was tearing at her chest, pulling on a brooch. This seemed to cause the girl's outfit to flicker oddly as if it would turn into a shred of ribbons.

In waves, Kuwabara could sense the masked man's anger, shock, and concern.

"Go!" Kuwabara pushed the man away, taking a seat on the stone steps, "A man doesn't sit back and let a woman get hurt! Go help her!"

The masked man hesitated for a moment, but then was charging forward leaving Kuwabara behind. Kuwabara was suddenly reminded of Kurama as the masked man launched several roses at the creature. The creature cried out the roses sinking deep into their arm, causing more hairline fractures on the body. The sailor-suited girl was dropped and several cries of, "Sailor Moon," echoed around the stone steps. But she did not land hard into the ground, the man had leaped up catching her skillfully and cradled her against his breast.

Kuwabara watched the scene feeling dumbfounded. Other then what had just happened to the blonde, the girls were holding their own against the monsters. In fact, it looked like the creatures would be defeated soon. Taking in their appearance, he noted his saviors were also wearing outfits represented by colors. Red, blue, green, yellow, pink, and their leader in a combination of white fringed in blues and golds. The girls and the masked man also radiated with a pure feeling energy. It was strong and similar to spiritual energy, but there was something else about it. Something much purer and cleaner than he'd ever encountered.

'This must be what Koenma was detecting,' Kuwabara concluded, his eyes suddenly drawn to the smallest girl in pink. Her attention was on the blonde girl who was in the masked man's arms. She held a bell in her hand, and her eyes were full of concern towards the other woman. 

'There's something about their faces. I can't make them out,' Kuwabara realized. The more he stared, the more obscured their faces became. He could see them, but as his mind tried to process their faces, it was like a veil of fog was obscuring his thoughts, hiding their features from him. It was just like the photos in all the articles he had seen. Some sort of veil was shielding Kuwabara from recognizing them. But there had to be a way to figure out who they were, right?

Kuwabara's train of thought was interrupted as he suddenly noticed VesVes aiming a red orb at the girl in pink. To his horror, he realized everyone else was too preoccupied to notice.

Kuwabara forced himself to stand and summoned his sword. Extending his blade, he used it as a pole vault and launched himself between the young girl and VesVes. Picking the girl up under her arms, he had every intention to run and get the girl out of harm's way, but again his leg gave out. All he could do was serve as the small girl's shield. The girl was staring up at his face in shock, and to his surprise, she shouted, "No! Mr. Kuwabara!" 

He was confused for a second when he felt something hit his back. It was solid for a moment and then he felt it... meld into his body. Something inside him was being twisted as if his very heart was going to be pulled from his body. His lungs burned as a cry was ripped from his chest, and then a pink mirror with a shiny reflective surface emerged from his body. Feeling incredibly weak, Kuwabara collapsed, the child beneath him crying out.

With what little strength he had left, he rolled off the child and onto his back. This gave him a good view of the mirror that ripped from his chest.

'There's...a chain...?' Kuwabara thought his mind sluggish and vision blurring.

But sure enough, a chain seemingly made of crystal, was secured around the mirror floating above his chest. There appeared to be no lock, but the chain was secure around the mirror seeming to have no beginning or end. He was not sure if he could understand the meaning, even if his brain wasn't so foggy.

"That's not the golden mirror!"

"But that's not normal..."

"It's still not what we're looking for!"

He blinked sluggishly his head spinning as voices talked near him. What had happened? Why was he so tired?

"Kuwabara!"

He shifted his head and saw the pink haired girl hovering over him. Her face was full of concern and her red eyes were filled with tears.

"I've had enough!" The blonde girl's voice was shouting, "Chibi-Moon! Call Pegasus."

The girl stood up, her hands trembling as she clutched a bell in her hands. He couldn't make out the words, and time seemed to be passing in a nauseating blur. He closed his eyes a moment, and when he opened them next he was startled to see a winged horse flying overhead. A powerful, radiating magic washed over the surrounding area and Kuwabara could hear the screams of the dying monsters, and then felt their energy disperse.

He was soon surrounded by the sailor-suited girls, and even the white face of a horse was peering down at him.

"This mirror... he is not fully awake," a deep voice echoed through the group.

"I've never seen one like this."

"We should hurry and help it back into him!"

"But is it supposed to be like this? All chained up?"

"Pegasus, what do you mean he's not awake?"

"There is a seal on his mind and heart...he is not awake."

Kuwabara's hand reached up, startling the girls, and he gently touched the nose of the white horse. At the touch, Kuwabara got a flash of a young boy, with a golden horn and white curls.

"You're....not a horse..." he slurred his hand tracing over the nose of the white beast above him.

"Perhaps...there is something I can do," the deep voice rumbled.

The horse lowered his head, and Kuwabara was sure he could see something like a golden horn on the creature's forehead. Gently the beast pressed the horns against the chains wrapped around the mirror. "I can not break the chains," the deep voice explained, "But I can fracture them. He will have to do the rest."

Kuwabara lazily blinked and looked to the strange mirror floating over his chest. Right where the horn touched the crystalized chain, it began to crack. Hairline fractures appeared over the chains, cracking like ice. Kuwabara was so dizzy... he moaned dropping his hand to the ground, his watch roughly clattering against the stone steps.

Usagi's voice came out of his watch, suddenly very loud to his ears. At the same time, the girl in the white sailor suit had taken the mirror in her hands and was lowering it back to his heart.

"I can't stand seeing this any longer! He needs this mirror, he needs his dreams! We can discuss what's going on later," the blonde said unaware of Kuwabara's watch playing back a voice. She smiled at Kuwabara, "Please hurry up and get well..."

The watch echoed simultaneously, "You should hurry and get well! Everyone will be leaving you presents on your desk..."

As Kuwabara's chest glowed and the mirror sunk into his chest it dawned on him this girl and Usagi's voice were the same. Feeling faint, he peered at the sailor-suited girl, and as if a veil was lifted he could make out Usagi's smiling face on the girl in the white sailor suit.

"Usagi?" He questioned, watching as the girl's eyes widened in shock.

He opened his mouth to say something again, but a wave of dizziness swept over him, and he fainted, falling into a world of dreams.

 

 


 

 

The dreams came fast. A mixture of memories, and feelings, of terror and joy... he could not distinguish reality from fantasy. Everything blurred together in the same hue of emotion. Was this pain? Was this joy? Was it a dream? Was it real? Faster, and faster his dreams swept him away.

He would drown.

 


 

 

He was walking through an unfamiliar field of flowers. The ground was a dark shade of purple, and flowers the color if roaring fires coated the ground.

He loved it here.

Tracing his hand through the tall grass he let out a sigh of content.

This was home at springtime.

"Epsilon..." A low voice called.

He turned, a nervousness fluttering in the pit of his stomach, "Lyrae... what brings you here?"

A man that he could not see was approaching him. He pulled flowers and grass up as he walked towards him, callously uprooting and destroying the natural beauty with little thought, "You will not respond to my messages...so what choice do I have but to visit you? Aren't you happy to see me, my darling brother?"

"You should be back on your star...conducting your duties," Kuwabara said, pulling a cloak closer to his body. "But of course I am honored by your visit."

"I want a response from you. Can you not do that for me, my precious little brother?" The man was now in front of Kuwabara.

He could still not see his face.

The man was almost his height, going up to about his nose. He was well toned, and a bit stockier than Kuwabara. There was something wild about the man's looks, wild and dangerous. And while all this, he could see... it was the face that he could still not make out.

"Lyrae, you know my answer. What you ask for is wrong-" Kuwabara protested.

Or was he Kuwabara? Kuwabara had no brother, but this man was calling him as such. Odder still, he was acknowledging the man as his brother. This was... a dream? Or was it a memory?

The man's hand, Lyrae's hand, came up and caught Kuwabara's face, pulling him close, "By whose rules is it wrong? Mother's? Father's? They can be dealt with... and if the people protest we need to remind them, that we are Gods! Their Gods...and if they defy our wishes we can put them in their place, beneath our feet!"

"We are not Gods Lyrae! We are a servant, a shield, a guide for our people! You can't think so highly of yourself," Kuwabara chastised, trying to tug away.

Lyrae held his face firmly, in an iron grip that echoed with great power. Kuwabara would not be able to escape easily from this person. The man's other hand came up to trace Kuwabara's face when someone wedged themselves between them.

"You!" the man growled, clearly surprised and angered.

Kuwabara was immediately relieved. He had shown up... his trusted friend, his ally.

A man in a darkened armor covered in polished white symbols that looked like stars stood between Kuwabara and Lyrae. He was shorter, but a strong power radiated off him in waves. This man was stronger than Kuwabara, and perhaps even stronger than Lyrae. Kuwabara could also not make out his savior's face.

"My lord," the new man addressed Lyrae, "We should return to our kingdom. You know you are not meant to dwell here. Your mother and father will be alerted to your presence and come to see what is going on."

"You work for me-" Lyrae spat out a name, but Kuwabara couldn't hear it. It was as if a bell instead started ringing in his ears, "Do not think you can tell me what to do!"

The shorter man chuckled, and placed a hand on Kuwabara's forearm, "Return to your home young prince... you do not have to stay."

Kuwabara put a strong hand on the armored man's shoulder, "You should not interfere... he will attack you!" the last part was whispered with deep concern.

"I served your parents before your brother... inherited me. I'm not going to stand here and let him act like a tyrant!" The man in the armor rebuffed.

"A tyrant?!" Lyrae scoffed outraged, "You are my knight! And you... you have always been in my way..." There was a dawning realization in the obscured man's tone, "You have stood in my way..."

"Now, now," the armored man placated, "I serve you, my lord. Why would I ever... interfere with any of your...plans?" His tone dripped with sarcasm.

The flowers at Kuwabara's feet began to die, and grass withered away to ash. The shorter man remained between Kuwabara and the man calling himself Lyrae. He had memories of the shorter man from his childhood... Always guiding him, always moving him along, steering him away from an elder brother who wanted...

Too much.

The two men were arguing, and the ground disappeared beneath Kuwabara's feet.

He was falling.

Falling...

 


 

 
He would drown.

 


 

 
"Will you keep it a secret? If you keep this place secret... you can always come back." A sweet girl's voice promised.

"Really?" a child's voice asked.

Kuwabara recognized it as his own, from when he was very small.

"Yes. You've been very polite... you didn't take anything. You asked. I think I can trust you. So, will you keep it secret?" The girl's voice pressed patiently.

"Yes! I promise!" Kuwabara swore, suddenly very happy. He could come back! He could come back!

He had a safe place to go when he needed, and he could make gifts for his loved ones here.

He was so lucky!

 


 

He would drown.

 


 


Harumi had killed Eikichi.

He hadn't known it at the time, but Harumi had been the one.

His precious cat's dead body was what had greeted him on the welcome matt of his apartment.

And while this terrified him, and caused tears to fill his eyes, all he could think about was Shizuru. Was his sister inside? Was she...?

"Shizuru!" Kuwabara cried bursting into his apartment.

He cried out as he was faced by a demonic woman. The lower half of her body was a snake, and the upper half appeared to be that of a human woman's. She laughed at the sight of Kuwabara's face, and lunged, coiling her body around Kuwabara. He was caught, his cries muffled against the thick scales of her snake half.

"Surprised?" Harumi asked, eyes flashing and stunning Kuwabara. It was as if he was in a trance. He could not move or even think of escaping. He could only stare into the eyes that bore into his.

"I would be if I were you," the woman hissed, "I must have felt all human. I used to be you know...and then my father made me into this..." Her body coiled tighter around Kuwabara, and he gasped as his breath was squeezed from him.

"Isn't it beautiful...this form of mine?" She asked sweetly, "It was a painful process but well worth it to become a demon... don't you think? I will live forever... and overpower all! This is the gift my father gave to me..." She uncoiled herself so that Kuwabara could take a desperate rasping breath.

"I will, in turn, continue my father's practice with you... and make you just like me. It will hurt, I can assure you that, but you'll get stronger from it. I did..." She was laughing and squeezing Kuwabara again, the air he had just gasped being forced from his lungs. Kuwabara was losing consciousness. 

"What the-KUWABARA!"

Kuwabara turned his head sluggishly, seeing Yusuke standing at the door. His face was horrified, and his eyes filled with a protective rage. Kuwabara reached for the man, but Harumi squeezed again.

He couldn't breathe...

He couldn't...

 



He was drowning.

 


 


Kuwabara was finally on a date with Yukina. Finally, he had been brave enough to ask her, and she had said yes! It was everything he had ever hoped for. So why did this feel...weird? They had gone for lunch and he talked about school. She talked about the shrine and a new way to braid her hair Shizuru had shown her. He talked about how he landed a punch on Yusuke that actually made the shorter man say ow.

They laughed.

They could laugh easy together. She was beautiful and kind, and he was happy. But... there was something... something not quite right.

He thought about this all day. Through lunch, through a walk in the park, through exploring some of Yukina's favorite stores... there was just something not right. As if he was not fully satisfied.

"It's Shizuru!" Yukina's happy words broke Kuwabara's thoughts.

Across the street, in the window of a salon, Shizuru could be seen. She was cutting someone's hair and speaking to them. She had a contented look on her face as her hands threaded through the customer's hair, a silver pair of scissors snipping furiously.

"I love watching her hands," Yukina sighed her face lit up, "She knows exactly where to place them, and what to do. And when she's done your hair is new and beautiful..."

Kuwabara watched Yukina curiously. She was so animated, and her voice so happy. They spent the entire day together, and she hadn't lit up like that. Hadn't smiled like that. Not for him. He looked at her face, and then back to Shizuru.

He felt like he was on the verge of understanding something when an arm hooked around his neck. He gasped as he was yanked back by someone's entire body weight, and turned to see who had a hold of him. Smiling down at him with a cheeky grin was Yusuke.

"Hey man...you uh...enjoying yourself?" Yusuke asked, in a tone that suggested he knew Kuwabara was on a date.

Kuwabara tried to tug Yusuke's arm from around his neck, but Yusuke had him in a strong headlock. Kuwabara could feel a warm blush creeping up his neck and crawling towards his ears. The blush was threatening to spill into his cheeks at any moment. Grumbling, Kuwabara mumbled, "Yes, Urameshi! I am! Or I was! Ge' off!!"

Yusuke snickered, "Well you have a good time okay?"

"What are you, my dad?!" Kuwabara sputtered.

"Ah, can't I be worried about my dear best friend?" Yusuke asked pinching the top of Kuwabara's red ear.

That had done it. The blush was full on in his face now.

Yusuke laughed and mussed Kuwabara's hair, commenting on Kuwabara's "cute-ness." Despite how annoyed Yusuke was making him, Kuwabara couldn't help but break out into a grin. Yusuke had that way about him. He could drive Kuwabara mad, but at the same time make Kuwabara want to laugh out loud. Yusuke always made him happy. He managed to break away and with both hands mussed Yusuke's hair, the other man squawking in protest. When Kuwabara stopped, Yusuke's hair was a disaster and he broke out into loud laughter. Yusuke glared at Kuwabara and began smoothing it back down over his head.

It didn't really help.

Yusuke reached up and tugged one of Kuwabara's curls that had been knocked loose from Kuwabara's pompadour. He tugged it until Kuwabara winced.

"I'll let you get back to your date then. See you tonight for games?"

Kuwabara smiled and pushed Yusuke's hand away from his hair, "Yeah. Just quit messing with my hair!"

"You made mine way worse!" Yusuke snorted, punching Kuwabara's arm.

Kuwabara winced, glaring after Yusuke as he jogged away. He smiled to himself, his heart fluttering. The tension and awkwardness he had felt earlier, was gone. He watched Yusuke disappear down the street until he rounded a corner and faded from sight. Even after Yusuke left Kuwabara felt content, and held his eyes on the spot he had vanished.

Remembering he was supposed to be on a date he quickly turned back to Yukina.

It did not seem like she had noticed Kuwabara's distraction. She was still staring at Shizuru from across the street, smiling softly. Kuwabara wondered if he did that. If he looked at Yusuke the way Yukina was looking at-

Oh.

OH.

That had been the day Kuwabara realized Yukina was in love with his sister, even if she wasn't really aware. It was also the day he realized he'd been unaware of something as well.

He loved Yusuke.

 


 

The dreams and memories had him. He was in a storm of dreams, and he was drowning. The waves would not let him up.

And so he drowned.

 


 


"He has a fever," Rei sighed as she placed a hand against Kuwabara's head. Picking up a rag that was folded neatly on a tray, she dipped it in a bowl of cold water. With care, she dabbed his forehead and frowned as Kuwabara moaned in response. It seemed like the poor man was in turmoil over something. 

"From what Pegasus did?" Mina asked.

"No!" Chibi-Usa snapped, "Pegasus was helping Mr. Kuwabara!"

Usagi placed a hand on Chibi-Usa's back and rubbed it gently, "I'm sure you're right. Pegasus was trying to help. Mr. Kuwabara just got out of the hospital. Being attacked so soon must have been too much!"

Ami nodded, "That's a fair conclusion to make...but I'm more concerned with him recognizing you. He knew who you were, Usagi."

"And what about this watch?" Mamoru asked holding up a watch that he had taken from Kuwabara's wrist. "It played back your voice."

"Ami's and mine were on it too," Makoto pointed out, "It was our conversation from the hospital. Why would he have something like that?"

The group sighed, having no answers for the many questions they now had.

After Kuwabara had fainted the group had gotten him in the shrine. Kuwabara's watch had played back the entire conversation from his time in the hospital. Ami and Luna had taken the watch and managed to figure out all it did. The pair marveled at the technology, though they could not explain for what purpose someone would need such a watch, or even where such a device would come from.

"He's some sort of spy!" Mina declared, pointing to the watch Mamoru was holding.

"That sounds silly," Artemis dismissed, eyes full of skepticism.

Mina made a face at the cat, "Can you really say it sounds silly when you and the other cats are piled on who could be an enemy?"

Luna, Artemis, and Diana were indeed curled against Kuwabara, pressed against his sides in his sleep. All three cats ducked their heads, seeming to have no explanation for their need to be close to the downed human.

"He's some sort of spy, trying to figure us out! He somehow must have come to suspect Usagi, Ami, and Mako-and has been spying!" Mina declared wildly.

"He's not a spy!" Usagi protested, her face scrunched up with protest.

"He's a spy!" Mina declared again, "And he's been trying to figure out a way to get close to us! By being a cool teacher, being friendly, by charming the cats, even his limp-"

"How dare you!" Usagi's tight and angry voice suddenly interrupted.

Usagi's eyes flashed in a way that she normally only reserved for their enemies. But now they were turned on Mina, who leaned away from the girl startled. The others also seemed stunned by Usagi's suddenly vicious expression. The girl's hand flew to Kuwabara's pant leg, and with a tug she pulled it up to the middle of his calf, revealing the mangled leg. His scars, his scooped out flesh, and thin leg was out for all to see.

"Does this look fake to you?" Usagi asked words harsh and biting.

Mina stared at the leg and closed her open mouth with an audible click. She looked back to Usagi's eyes, but the girl was already getting back up and stomping away.

"Usagi!" Rei cried after her, voice filled with concern and confusion.

Mamoru held up a hand and chased after his princess, leaving the stunned group behind.

"I've...I've never seen her so mad!" Mina finally said, her nose red, and her voice choked up. She was clearly upset.

"Usagi feels incredibly protective over Kuwabara," Luna spoke up, "She can't explain it, and nor can I. I also feel protective over this man. As I'm sure Artemis and Diana do."

"I like him too. He feels safe!" Chibi-Usa piped up.

"Us too," Makoto joined in. She sighed shifting uncomfortably, "The more we suspect him the worse I've felt about it. That must be what's going on for Usagi. She's always been very intuned with her feelings... and I don't think she can take us suspecting him."

Rei reached out squeezing Mina's shoulder, "You didn't do anything wrong Mina. You're just thinking of Usagi's safety. Of everyone's safety. She knows that... she just got upset. Please don't take her harshness to heart."

Mina nodded, sighing a little, "I should apologize."

"No," Rei disagreed, "The evidence against Kuwabara is strange. And why I can't reason what type of spy Kuwabara could be... it's not a far off thought given all this strange evidence. I don't think you should apologize for pointing it all out."

"Let Mamoru talk to her," Amy consoled Mina, patting the blonde on her back, "He'll have her back in here and smiling."

Chibi-Usa sighed her thoughts on Pegasus. He had flown off and disappeared as soon as the mirror sunk back into Kuwabara's chest. He could never stay for long, but she wished he would. She had many questions... he knew something about Kuwabara's mirror. Knew what the chains meant...was there more he knew? She wished she could talk to him.

Rei laid the cold rag flat on Kuwabara's forehead, sighing at all the trouble that had taken place today. She had felt the attack on Kuwabara, and ran for the shrine's stone steps. They had all witnessed Kuwabara's struggle, and she too had seen a strange glowing sword in his hand. When they transformed they could clearly see his weapons. Two glowing swords of bright golden orange energy. They rushed down to help him, but in the end, he'd still gotten his mirror forced from his body, and all while protecting Chibi-Usa...

Rei was confused. She could still not get a good read on Kuwabara's power. She hadn't learned anything...and yet. He had saved Chibi-Usa, she saw it with her own eyes. Was this enough to prove his character?

She just wasn't sure.

She let out an annoyed sigh and slowly got up. "I can boil some herbs for him, it might help with his fever." She began to turn away when a chill ran up her spine and her head whipped to the front of the shrine.

"Evil spirits! Something...Something powerful is coming!" Rei cried warning all the girls. She ran past the group as they too, leapt to their feet getting ready for action. 

Bursting out of the sliding doors, Rei jumped into the air talismans at the ready, "Evil spirits! Disperse!" She launched her attack, hoping to expel the strong force she felt.

To her shock a wave of air pushed her back, sending her flying. Makoto was unlucky enough to come outside, only to have Rei crash into her. A small figure fell to the ground, just at the top of the stone steps, all of Rei's paper talismans in her hands.

"My, my... Master Hino has trained you well," An old voice Rei recognized spoke.

"Master...Genkai?" Rei questioned in shock, her friends echoing the name in confusion.

Genkai wadded up the talismans in her hands, before triggering a bolt of her energy to light the paper on fire. She then dropped it, snorting, "I would appreciate it if you didn't launch these at me and my boys Rei." She then stomped her foot on the balled up paper, extinguishing the fire with a tutting sound.

Three figures came to join Genkai, all radiating with a strong demonic energy. Rei shivered at the sheer power the three men radiated with but was more surprised by the lack of malice in their energy. Rei struggled to her feet, dusting herself as she got up. She shared a look with her friends, before straightening herself up.

"Master Genkai...its been years! What are you doing here? Who are your... friends?" Rei asked.

Genkai pointed to each one giving very short introductions, "Hiei. Kurama. Yusuke. I would love to chat, but there is no time."

"You've got someone of ours," the man called Yusuke said, his hands curling into fists, "And we would like him back."

"I don't know what..." Rei tried to lie.

Genkai held up her hand, "You have a young man named Kazuma Kuwabara with you Rei. We need him. Now."

"He's inside..." Rei relented hesitantly, "but I have to speak with you before you go Master Genkai. It's... important. There's a lot to explain," Rei said, her chin held high and voice firm.

Genkai sighed, gesturing that the three men move towards the shrine, "Then I hope your powers are strong enough to assist me-" A fat blue creature landed on Genkai's head. The old woman sighed and pointed to it, "And Puu here. There's someone coming, and we'll need everything we've got to stop him."

 


End of chapter 9

 

 

Chapter Text

With everyone eyeing each other with some suspicion, both groups began to slowly make their way into Rei's shrine. 

"Rei! Who is that?" Mina hissed pointing at Genkai. The blonde had snuck up behind Rei so that she could whisper in the other girl's ear. 

"She is Master Genkai... a great and powerful Psychic. An old friend of my grandfather's... and the most powerful psychic I've ever met. The strongest in the world," Rei said with immense pride.

Genkai snorted, her chuckle surprising the girls who had held back outside.

"Once I was," Genkai said calling out to them from within the shrine, "But that title has gone to him," Genkai pointed at Kuwabara as Rei and Minako entered the room. Rei looked down at Kuwabara startled and then snapped her head towards the older woman.

"So I couldn't get a read on him-"

"Because he was blocking you, my dear," Genkai said with an eyebrow arched, "It's something he's had to learn in order to protect himself from other psychics and... demons." She cast a glance at Yusuke, who was already at Kuwabara's side. At Genkai's words, Yusuke frowned but remained silent.

"In order to guard himself, he casts his spiritual power out in thin lines spreading it over the city. It took years of training to develop this technique, but he perfected and mastered it in only half a year's time. It keeps him safe from those who would harm him. Every single strand of energy feels like a beacon that is meant to mislead and misdirect keeping you away from the source," Genkai explained, "like a tangled web-"

"Or like a net!" Rei burst, understanding dawning.

Genkai smiled, and nodded, "Like a net cast over a large area."

Ami also made a noise of understanding as she remembered the meeting with Rei she had weeks ago. She now understood why her computer had blown up. If Kuwabara had designed this technique to hide in plain sight, her computer would have overloaded from all the misdirection. "That's amazing!" Ami said eyes wide, and face beaming.

Usagi and Mamoru had returned and were now back at Kuwabara's side. They were looking at the guests with some surprise, before Usagi spoke up, "What's going on?"

"We don't know yet, but there's some danger approaching," Rei answered.

"They know Mr. Kuwabara," Makoto added.

Chibi-Usa looked up at the group, and then to Kuwabara sleeping quietly on the floor. She blinked as a thought struck her, "You must be Mr. Kuwabara's friends! The ones he wanted to talk to!"

The new arrivals all looked to Chibi-Usa, and then to Kuwabara who was lying tucked in a pallet. Once Yusuke spotted Kuwabara, he had gone immediately to Kuwabara's side, eyes full of concern. Kurama and Hiei also approached, though Hiei held back a little. He was weary to put his back to the young girls. He did not want to expose any weaknesses to the group that was putting off such a strange energy. It was like spiritual, but not quite human... but not demonic. It set Hiei on alert.

Yusuke ran a hand over Kuwabara's face, frowning at Kuwabara's pale skin, and the bags under Kuwabara's closed eyes.

"What's happened? Did any of you do this?" He glared around the room wanting an answer.

"No, some bad people did!" Chibi-Usa answered, her little face frowning sternly, "We'd never hurt Mr. Kuwabara!"

Kurama knelt down, and gently brushed Yusuke aside so he could touch Kuwabara's brow with his own hand.

"He has a fever...and a bad one," Kurama muttered.

He reached into his hair, and when he came back had a palm of seeds in his hands. Closing his palm once, he reopened them revealing small growing yellow flowers. Ignoring the gasps around the room he placed them at Kuwabara's brow, heart, and then pushing up Kuwabara's left pant leg, placed the remaining ones on his marred flesh.

"What's going on?" Usagi asked, amazed at the small flowers. They glowed as they came in contact with Kuwabara, seeming to pulse with each of his breaths.

"I don't have much time to explain what I'm doing, but I'm helping. We need him to be more stable and then we must move him," Kurama muttered.

"You're taking him?" Makoto asked, tone sharp.

"Why?" Usagi asked, the concern in her voice forcing Kurama to look into her eyes. He held the girl's gaze a moment and then turned to Genkai.

"Genkai...?"

The woman sighed and shooed Puu away, "Go outside. Put up a shield."

With the bird gone, Genkai looked around taking in every member of the room. "Well... Rei. It seems you've gotten some powerful friends. Something is going on with all the people of this room..." Genkai looked down at the cats that were laying on Kuwabara's body, "Even the damn cats have some power about them!"

Everyone in the room was now nervous. Confusion coming from both sides. 

Usagi reached for Kuwabara's hand, watching in surprise as Yusuke reached for the other. The pair looked at each other, shocked and cautious.

"Did a man called Lyrae come here? Did he attack Kuwabara?" Yusuke asked. His tone demanding but more desperate than angry.

"No," Usagi answered. She looked at her friends who looked at her face. They gave subtle shakes of their heads, signaling Usagi should not say anything further. Frowning she looked at Luna who had been quietly watching the scene. Their eyes met and Luna looked hard at Usagi. Seemingly coming to a decision, she nodded at Usagi, a nod of consent and encouragement.

Usagi had Luna's support in telling the truth.

Usagi pursed her lips, and turned to Yusuke, a fire blazing in their blue depths, "No, he was attacked by some girls who call themselves the Amazoness Quartet. They were after his dream mirror."

Yusuke made a face, as the girls in the room gasped at her reveal. He looked back at his friends trying to see if they understood a word of what had been said. They also looked confused, and even Gekai shrugged in confusion at the term.

"What the fuck is a dream mirror?" Hiei asked.

"Language Hiei!" Genkai hissed, gesturing towards Chibi-Usa.

Hiei made a face, "What. the. FUCK. Is. A. Dream. Mirror?"

Genkai swiped at Hiei, the demon dodging quickly, appearing next to Kurama's side. Kurama smacked Hiei in Genkai's stead, "Now is not the time to cause trouble!"

"I say we grab him and go!" Hiei snarled.

"No!" Chibi-Usa protested, throwing herself on Kuwabara, squeezing the man protectively. The cats had puffed up and hissed in Hiei's direction, the man glaring at the animals with disdain.

"We can take on a pair of cats and some pathetic teenaged girls!" Hiei said cooly, eyes narrowed.

"What did you say?" Makoto growled, "You looking for a fight?"

"Can everyone sit still and calm down?!" Genkai sighed, "Boys I understand your concern, but we're coming off as the villains here! Puu has a shield up, and if Lyrae isn't here yet, so we still have some time! Let's use it to explain what is going on. They obviously care about Kuwabara, we should tell them what we can. It's not as if Kuwabara is in a state to move right now anyway..."

Genkai approached, sitting near the center of the room. She looked at Hiei, who rolled his eyes. He did not seem to agree with her but said nothing to counter her argument. Instead, he stormed across the room, leaning against a pillar within the room. Rei glared at him, and he met the glare stubbornly. The two stared at each other as if their glares could ignite a fire. Hiei eventually broke the glare, growling but remaining silent.

"We've got a lot to explain, and there is a danger coming. Listen well, because I won't be repeating myself. After my story, if you expect us not to take Kuwabara, you better have some damn good reasons," Genkai informed everyone listening. And then with a sigh, began to supply the listeners with their story, "Well this all started when that dimwit over there, Yusuke, got himself killed. I'd love to elaborate, and wax poetics about his dumb stupid life, but there's no time, so I'll just sum it all up..."

 

 


 

 

Kuwabara had been falling from dream, to dream, to dream.

He'd caught on he was dreaming some time ago, although some of these dreams were memories. He dreamt a lot about Harumi, and about what had happened to him. He dreamt of past missions with his friends, of days at school, of talking with Yukina. He dreamt of his sister, years younger, and smiling at him, ruffling his hair-the only guardian he ever had really known. Yusuke flitted by in his dreams too, jumbled moments of all their encounters, the good and the bad. Those were all real. Memories that replayed in his dreams...

And then there were just dreams... that felt like a memory.

Dreams of unfamiliar planets... one with purple sands, and long winters. Winters that he yearned for that he felt like he could remember. The other planet he dreamed of seemed to glow with a white light and gazed upon a planet of blue and green. In those dreams, he was called Epsilon, and he was someone important. There was someone that followed him when he was Epsilon, Someone bad. Someone, who was represented by a black shadow, kept pursuing him, chasing him in and out of these fantasies. These moments were terrifying. Other times he was happy and counseling someone who he knew to be a Queen. Sometimes he'd watch a little girl play with a cat, and sometimes he would watch four other people with four little girls.

When he became aware that he was dreaming, he was able to step away from the scenes and watch himself play out these parts.

He could not block out any imagery... he tried when he saw Harumi. God, did he try... but he had to bear witness to everything. He couldn't understand why. Since he was aware he was dreaming, shouldn't he wake up?

"Kuwabara... Epsilon..." A feminine voice called from behind him.

Kuwabara turned, and a new scene unfolded before him.

The scene was set outside, in a garden by a white castle. Everything seemed to be made of this white and silver stone. Traces of gold accented here or there. It was truly a beautiful place. HIgh in the sky was a vision of stars and a bright blue globe-Earth. 

Kuwabara felt a hand ghost on his back, and he shuddered. Sometimes in the dreams, a woman would be behind him, just whispering his name. He could not turn to see her but did not feel afraid or threatened. She would whisper to him, and he would catch a few words. Mostly he caught his name, and "Epsilon," or "Remember," or, "Wake."

The rest of the woman's words were lost to him. He had this hunch that if he could ever make the words out, then he might actually wake up.

A child appeared running on the stone steps of a palace, and Kuwabara settled back, prepared to watch the scene play out.

 


 

 

A girl giggled as she escaped her teachers for the day, her white-blonde hair streaming behind her as she ran. She planned to spend her day in the garden looking at the faraway stars and gazing at Earth. Earth was a beautiful blue marble... and she never tired of looking at it. One day she would like to go there.

Just as she was about to make the final stretch towards the garden, a pair of large familiar hands caught her. She cried out, but a finger was dug into her ribs and she burst into loud giggles.

"No Epsilon! I'm escaping!" Princess Serenity protested.

"I can see you're trying," A cloaked figure said, a smile on his face.

 

 

little bit of a spoiler for my crossover fanfic. So here is Epsilon/Kuwabara from thousands of years ago, in his royal robes.
Younger brother to Lyrae, 

 

The figure wore a flashing cloak that looked like a sunset. It draped over his body, moving in a magical way that would make the little princess stop to stare. His feet, arms, and chest were bare, and his skin shined like pale alabaster. In the center of his chest, stretching down towards his stomach was a large slightly orange colored symbol, like that of a star. He had told Serenity it was a symbol of his royal family, just like the crescent moon on her forehead.  Their hair was a rich mingling of copper and auburn tones, shaved on the sides, but long and curling down his back. A golden clasp kept the wild mane in a neat plait, but the curls were always trying to defy the clasp's grip. His smile was the best part, or at least that's what the Princess would say.

It was warm and welcoming.

"Oh Epsilon let me go... I want to play!" The princess pleaded.

Epsilon smiled and hoisted the girl up in his arms, tucking her against his chest, "Now, now my little Princess, your mother would be sad if she heard you were gone all day. So how about we compromise?"

"Compromise?" Princess Serenity asked tilting her head.

Epsilon, "Yes. It means we meet in the middle. You can't run off and play all day, but I understand going to your lessons for the whole day can be boring. So... how about you take an hour break, and then we go back to your lessons!"

The princess puffed up her cheeks and narrowed her eyes.

Epsilon nodded looking grim, "I see you're deeply considering my suggestion."

The girl nodded once, before taking in a deep breath. She let it out in a long exaggerated sigh, "I guess an hour is better than nothing!"

Epsilon laughed and set her down, "Yes, Yes it is. And perhaps I'll take us to the kitchen for a nice lunch before we return."

Serenity grinned, looking ready to tear off towards the garden, before she paused, "Can um, can you make something... for me to play with? Please?"

Epsilon smiled, "I think I might have an idea..."

He lifted his hand in the air, and the Princess stopped moving. She had seen him do this many times, but she always had to stop to watch. He flicked his wrist, and with a burst of gold, a glowing sword was in his hand. Looking upwards, and just past his shoulder, he slid the sword into that space, and cut through the air itself. A light poured from the hole, and Epsilon pressed his face and arms into it. There was a pause, but when Epsilon returned he held a ball of light in his hands.

Using the handle of his sword he pressed the cut in space closed, and the opened pocket disappeared in a flash of white light.

Taking the ball of light in his hand, he turned it over in his hands, keeping an eye on the little girl. She smiled, pressing her hands against her cheeks in excitement. Epsilon gave the girl a little wink and tossed the ball in the air, and when it fell back down he caught it cradling it carefully. The ball of light was now a large white rabbit, with a set of small feathered wings on it's back. Gray spots decorated its ears and feet, in the soft pattern of stars.

Epsilon whispered in the ear of the creature, and set it down to the ground. As soon as its paws hit the grass it took a flying leap at the princess, bouncing off her knees and soaring through the air with its furiously flapping wings. The flying rabbit encircled the little girl and then took off towards the garden, the little princess squealing and giving chase.

Epsilon remained kneeling, smiling at the scene of the happy child chasing his creation.

 


 

 

"So that guy there has to be me... or at least a fantasy version of me," Kuwabara mused, walking towards his dream self.

The dream had frozen, the scene changing to a pale hue of gold. This allowed him to walk around the man and get a full look at him. They certainly looked alike, though this person's hair was long, and he seemed slightly younger than himself now.

"He's got the Jigen To, so he must be me. I wonder if I could close up the holes I cut..." Kuwabara continued to speak to himself squinting at the person who was supposed to be him.

Arms wrapped tight around his neck, but not in a threatening manner. They were protective. Kuwabara shuddered and touched the woman's arms, closing his eyes for a brief moment. Whenever this ghostly woman hugged him like this, it meant he was about to see something bad. A nightmare or a terrible memory. He hated this part.

He opened his eyes.

 


 

 

Kuwabara lay on his back his eyes open but seeing nothing. He was soaking wet from the perfluorocarbon substance, glass scattered all around him and his friends. His leg was a gory bloody mess. Burn marks caused by electric shocks peppered his body, and dark heavy rings were set deep under his eyes. Harumi had only had him twenty-four hours, but she had made every hour count.

Yusuke's arms wrapped around the taller man and tugged him up for a desperate embrace. Kuwabara did not assist Yusuke, his body remaining stiff and heavy.

"Kuwabara! Kuwabara! Don't do this to me! Kuwabara!" Yusuke pleaded, blood trickling from a cut above his eye. With shaking hands he wiped it impatiently away, his tears turned red as blood got in his tear ducts.

Hiei and Kurama joined Yusuke, Kurama and Hiei ripping a shirt to shreds to make bandages for Kuwabara's mess of a leg. Hiei tied a piece of fabric tight above Kuwabara's knee, while Kurama patted down Kuwabara's leg with what looked like moss.

"Am... Amputation?" Hiei whispered, stumbling over the word. There was a question in his tone, that he could not fully bring himself to voice.

"It won't do any good," Kurama dismissed, not wasting time to mince words, "There's demonic energy here..." Kurama whispered, his face becoming pinched as he leaned closer to Kuwabara's injury, "I can smell it. It's been... been twisted into his leg. Twisted into his life-force. Cutting the leg will do nothing... the energy will continue to travel upwards." Kurama grimaced at the state of Kuwabara's leg. Amputation would have been his first suggestion if it wasn't for the demonic power infecting Kuwabara's leg.

"Demonic power?" Yusuke echoed in a whispered voice, his tone lost, and his eyes wide and focused on the man he was holding.

"Was she turning him into a demon?" Hiei asked grimly, tying another piece of torn fabric above Kuwabara's knee. He didn't seem convinced that an amputation wouldn't be necessary.

"Yes... I think-" Kurama was interrupted when Yusuke let out a strangled sound.

With tormented eyes and a trembling mouth, Yusuke whispered, " Kuwabara's not breathing."

Kurama and Hiei's head snapped to Yusuke, and then to Kuwabara face. His eyes were open, his lips slightly blue, and an ashy sheen was beginning to take over his skin.

Kurama pushed past Hiei and forced Yusuke away. Hiei and Yusuke could only watch numbly as Kurama tore open Kuwabara's shirt and pressed an ear to his chest. Cursing, he got up, and straddled Kuwabara's waist before compressing his hands to Kuwabara's chest, and began pushing up and down, counting as he did so. After the third count, he titled Kuwabara's head back and pressing his lips to his, forced air into Kuwabara's lungs.

He repeated this process for an agonizing forty-five seconds.

Finally, Kuwabara let out a rasping gasp, and his body shook, as he came back into himself.

Hiei sagged as relief warmed the freezing fear that had been in his belly. Yusuke sagged as well, a hand coming to clutch Kuwabara's hand, squeezing it with all his might. Kurama rolled off of Kuwabara, and with no time for dramatics began to bark orders at Yusuke and Hiei.

"His life is still in danger! Follow everything I say!" Kurama spat, hands flying to remove the remains of Kuwabara's shirt.

As the four worked, Harumi's eviscerated body bled quietly in the corner, deemed as unimportant trash by those remaining in the room.

 


 

"I hate this!" Kuwabara hissed pressing his palms into his eyes, "I wasn't even...I wasn't even awake to remember this! I was... why am I seeing this?"

But even with his eyes closed, and his hands pressed firmly to his face, he could still see his friends working on his injured body from a year ago. 

There was no escaping it.

"Epsilon...Must...remember...Kuwabara..." a soft gentle voice pleaded in his ear.

"Remember what?!" Kuwabara cried desperately spinning in a circle, looking for the woman who he could hear, but not see.

"What do I gotta do?! Someone tell me!" Kuwabara cried, a new scene already playing around him.

He screamed and fell to the floor wishing he could block out the dream that had already started. This one was about Kuwabara and Yusuke apparently. They were laughing and had their shoulders pressed together while they shared a comic book. Kuwabara was pointing at a page, and Yusuke was making a rude gesture about the character. They snickered, pressing their foreheads together, laughing at some inside joke.

Kuwabara sunk to the ground covering his head. He didn't care if this was a good memory. In a moment it would be over and some confusing dream would play. Something good or bad, true or false, real or fiction-it didn't matter. 

And there... it was starting.

"Wake up, wake up, wake up!" Kuwabara roared at himself.

The dark shadow that Kuwabara knew as Lyrae was smaller now, clearly a child. He was holding a baby and smiling at it, the baby cooing softly. "I will share this kingdom with him. My brother..." Lyrae proclaimed, his voice dripping with nobility even at this young age. "I will not fight him for the throne but I will share it. The stars will remain split into two, and we will rule together!" A crowd that could not be seen roared with their approval.

"Wake up! Wake up!"

"I don't know what you mean..." Yukina said face flushed, "I don't--I mean... Shizuru is wonderful, but I-" Kuwabara reached out and took Yukina's shoulders and smiled kindly, "It's okay. I'm not mad, and you don't have to be scared...it's just a feeling I have. And I could be wrong. I just think... if I'm being honest, you might enjoy a date with... my sister and not... me." Yukina looked at Kuwabara shocked, and a blush flooded her face. With one look, Kuwabara had his answer...

"Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!"

Harumi was explaining the process of turning Kuwabara into a demon. "Very similarly to Toguro, we have to take your human life-force and turn it into that of a demon's. Now, Toguro had a much easier transformation, a whole team helped him. And while my father's method hurts, it is effective. So... I'm just going to start with your lower half, one leg at a time. By removing part of your calf muscle..."

"Wake up! Godammit wake up!!

Yusuke had fallen asleep on Kuwabara's shoulder. Kuwabara was feeling conflicted. Keiko had gotten married...but not to Yusuke. Why? He had always thought... well. He just thought that they were together. Yusuke wasn't one to talk about emotions or feelings, but even still... Kuwabara had just assumed Yusuke was with Keiko. He sighed thinking, 'Well, assuming makes an ass out of you and me.' Yusuke snorted in his sleep, pressing his drooling face into Kuwabara's shoulder. His spit stained Kuwabara' suit jacket, and Yusuke muttered something in his sleep, his voice muffled. Kuwabara grinned unable to hold a laugh back...

"Wake up! Wake up! WAKE UP!"

Epsilon gasped as the blade slid into his belly. Someone cried out his name behind him. In the distance, he could see Princess Serenity floating limply through the air, her prince floating beside her. His eyes watered, not from the pain at his stomach, but at the sight of seeing the girl he had watched grow up die before his eyes. He toppled back, hearing Queen Serenity's scream echo over the fallen kingdom. No doubt she was somewhere seeing what he was seeing. He didn't want to die like this, away from those that needed him. Away from his friends and away from...

"Shush....shush now. You'll hurt your voice."

All went still and quiet. The dreams stopped their maddening dance, and he looked up, seeing a winged horse standing a few feet in front of him. Kuwabara felt dizzy and pressed his hands to his eyes. The vision of the horse swam until a young boy replaced and took its place. Kuwabara blinked rapidly but the boy did not disappear.

"Who are you?" Kuwabara asked, slowly moving to sit up.

"I am Pegasus..." the young man answered.

Kuwabara squinted at him, "You mean...that winged horse? You were that a minute ago..."

The boy blinked, "You... You can see me?"

Kuwabara rubbed his tired eyes, "Yeah, of course! But... who are you?!"

 


 

"That was the craziest story I've ever heard!" Minako squealed, looking delighted.

"Was any of that...real?" Rei asked eyebrow raised skeptically.

"Rei Hino, since when have I ever wasted my time making up bullshit?" Genkai asked peering at Rei, her own eyebrow raised ever higher.

Rei flushed, which set Minako howling with laughter, "Oh my god I love this old woman!"

"I can't believe...demons exist and have their own world and are...peaceful!" Ami burst, using her arms to gesture wildly. Even as she said the words, she was looking at Kurama who was growing flowers in his hands and applying them to Kuwabara's bad leg. He had called it a Chikara weed, which would help strengthen Kuwabara's leg and replenish wasted energy.

"I don't know why you bothered telling them all this!" Hiei snorted, a permanent frown glued to his face.

"Because everyone in this room has a large amount of power, that would prove troublesome if they think we are a danger," Genkai answered, rolling her eyes, "I am not going to fight anyone here when time is of the essence. Better to explain who we are and what's going on rather than have a throw down."

"Everyone here does have a weird power. Not demonic...but not really human either," Yusuke agreed, scrunching up his face. He was seated next to Kuwabara, a hand on Kuwabara's chest or shoulder. In his anxiety, it seemed he could not help but keep a physical connection between them both.

"...What do you mean?" Makoto asked casually and carefully.

"Please young lady, don't play dumb," Kurama sighed before piercing her with his green gaze, "We are confirmed demons, and can sense that there is something going on with all of you. As Yusuke said, neither of you are quite... human."

"We're not, not humans though...right?" Chibi-Usa turned to Usagi, who blinked in confusion. Usagi then looked at Mamoru, expecting him to supply an answer.

"It's...complicated," Mamoru supplied, rubbing the back of his neck. He had never thought about it, but now he was unsure if those who were originally from the Moon Kingdom were human.

"Look, either way-none of this matters. You now know that we're not going to hurt Kuwabara and that something dangerous is coming! So we should go!" Yusuke snapped impatiently.

"You said they were calling themselves Lyrae?" Ami asked, interrupting Yusuke before he could speak further.

"Yes, and he's after someone called Epsilon. Apparently, he thinks Kuwabara is Epsilon and means to capture him. We think," Genkai answered rubbing her chin.

"Not capture him, more like-" Kurama snapped a hand to Yusuke's mouth, silencing the frustrated young man.

"Not the time or place!" Kurama hissed, glancing quickly at Chibi-Usa.

"Lyrae. Epsilon," Mamoru echoed. He frowned, "I've heard both those names before."

"Me too!" Ami exclaimed, "and that is what's bothering me. I've heard the names before but I can't quite remember where..."

"It's a star," Diana said suddenly, the kitten lifting her head up.

"Did that cat just fucking talk!?" Yusuke burst, pointing at the kitten in shock.

Mamoru had slapped his hand over Chibi-Usa's ears, and irritably hissed, "Can you try not to say 'fucking,' every other sentence?! What's wrong with you?!"

"Oh excuse me! Because a fucking talking cat is normal!" Yusuke snapped.

"Well here it is normal," Luna suddenly spoke up, her fur fluffed in agitation, "I imagine it's shocking, but keep it down! There are children present, and I don't need my meatball head absorbing anything stupid to say!" Usagi let out an embarrassed protest at Luna's words, but Luna continued speaking, "And also, Diana is right. Now that she's mentioned it I do remember those names. Epsilon Lyrae is a double star."

Yusuke looked ready to say something else, but Kurama pressed a hand over Yusuke's mouth, a habit he was getting used to, and asked, "A double star?"

"Yes. A double star is two stars so close together that appear to be a singular star," Artemis picked up where Luna left off (Yusuke made a distressed noise behind Kurama's hand) "But the Epsilon Lyrae star system is a what looks like a pair of stars, but when observed with a telescope is actually four stars."

"So this Lyrae person is a star?" Makoto asked trying to wrap her head around what Luna was saying.

"No, he might be from the Epsilon Lyrae star system... There used to be a kingdom in that system. They were a fairly peaceful kingdom too, until..." Luna's tail swished and she sighed, "I don't quite remember what caused the downfall, but I know the Epsilon Lyrae kingdom collapsed sometime before the Moon Kingdom. Even before I was born!"

"Talking cats aside," Genkai spoke, "What does all this information about star systems and a Moon Kingdom have to do with what's happening now?"

"We're just ignoring the talking cats?!" Yusuke burst, shoving Kurama's arm away.

"You have a flying blue penguin that turns into a phoenix!" Hiei snorted.

"Hey! Puu is always a phoenix!" Yusuke protested, "He just can get small, and pudgy."

Kurama shushed the pair impatiently, and looked to the group, expecting an answer.

"Well, you told us about yourselves, I think we should, in turn, tell all of you about us," Usagi said, looking to her friends for support. There was some hesitation, but eventually, the group nodded. Mamoru placed a hand on Usagi's back, and Luna sat up straighter.

"Usagi is right... I think before we can explain anything about the Epsilon Lyrae system we should tell you about the Silver Millennium, and the Moon Kingdom."

 


 

 

The young boy still seemed surprised Kuwabara could see him, and finally gave his name, "I'm... Helios."

"Helios huh... " Kuwabara grunted. He stared at the boy, before standing up, "Can you get me out of here?"

"Yes...I'll help guide you out of here. These dreams weren't meant to hurt you or come so fast," Helios continued speaking, approaching Kuwabara slowly. When he took steps, the ground beneath him rippled like he was walking on water.

"Are you responsible for these dreams?" Kuwabara demanded, voice growing hostile.

"Yes... and no," Helios answered coming to stand in front of Kuwabara, "I guard the dreamers and their dreams... and I am trying to help you. While I've fractured the chains around your dreams, someone else is trying to speed up the process of awakening your memories. I am guiding your dreams, but someone else is making them come at the rapid pace. I think they are also trying to break the chains around your mirror." The young man's eyes drifted just past Kuwabara's shoulders.

"So there is someone there... you can see her?" Kuwabara asked bitterly, taking no comfort in the gentle hand that fell on his shoulder.

"She's not there to hurt you. She's trying to help you," Helios assured, placing his own hand on Kuwabara's arm, "I can not make out her face, but I can see someone there. Perhaps she can't be revealed until you remember."

"Remember what?" Kuwabara asked shrugging his shoulders. The woman's touch did not leave.

"I am not sure," Helios admitted. "I don't know. Humans... are a marvelous race. They are capable of having dreams and goals for themselves, as well as striving to accomplish those goals. Without dreams... people are nothing. There are those out there seeking to destroy dreams and control people. To destroy a dream is another way to destroy a life..."

Kuwabara raised an eyebrow, "That sounds a little... dramatic?"

Helios chuckled, "Maybe... but it stands without dreams people would go through life... despondent, and some die. Your dream mirror was revealed today with a chain. The chain will not let you seek your true dream. If your dream remains stagnant, you will not be able to seek your true dream, or ever live a full life. You will be incomplete."

Kuwabara grimaced and squeezed his leg, "I can't follow my true dream anyway... that chain is just... probably just a representation of my bum leg."

"The chain is not a manifestation of your leg," Helios promised, placing a gentle touch on Kuwabara's arm, "The chain was with you since you were born. It's keeping something... secret. Keeping something asleep. All memories are tied to your dreams... and some part of your memories is being sealed away."

"Why?" Kuwabara asked, beyond frustrated and tired of all this talk of dreams.

"It was probably done to protect you...but now it's time you woke up. It's time to remember," Helios gently supplied.

"Remember what?" Kuwabara exploded walking away from Helios and the mysterious touch that haunted his shoulder, "I'm not forgetting anything, I don't need to remember, there's nothing sealed away! I'm just stuck here in this weird... nightmare! I want to wake up!"

"I came here to help you wake up," Helios spoke eventually. Helios crossed his arms behind his back and approached Kuwabara with cation.

"I can see you're upset, these dreams are coming too fast. I would be just as confused as you... these dreams weren't meant to hurt you but to help you. But I can tell it's too much... I'll get you out of here," Helios offered his hand, "But there's one more dream that I think... might make you more receptive to what I'm saying."

"What? What is it? Proof that I have locked up memories or something?" Kuwabara asked, glaring at the young boy.

"Proof that the dreams aren't meant to hurt you," Helios said holding out his hand for Kuwabara, "Proof that the woman is not meant to hurt you, but to guide you." His pale fingers began to glow gold, the color extending to his palm. "Please. Look at this dream... this memory, and consider what I'm saying. Then I'll help you wake up."

Kuwabara glared at the boy. It didn't feel like he was being offered a choice. More like a command... do what the horse boy asked and wake up. Don't and remain stuck in this nightmare. "It feels like you're playing dirty kid... but fine. I want out of here."

Kuwabara took Helios' extended hand.

 


 

 

"How is what you just told us, more believable than what we told you!? Because all that-that was crazy!" Yusuke scoffed his tone filled with awe and disbelief. He had kept his hands tangled in his hair for the most of their story, his jaw hanging open. Sometimes he had even muttered a curse in disbelief, Mamoru glaring quietly at Yusuke as Chibi-Usa learned every curse word in the book from his every utterance. 

"We can prove it if you don't believe it!" Minako snapped, taking Yusuke's disbelief as a challenge.

"Well, we did!" Yusuke countered glaring at the blonde.

"You didn't prove jack! We could just see it with our own eyes with that gorgeous guy growing things from nothing!" Minako snapped back.

"Please, calm down!" Rei growled fixing Minako with an impatient look.

"Yusuke, you dimwit! If the talking cats aren't proof enough of what they're saying is true, then I don't know what is!" Genkai snapped, reaching over and yanking Yusuke's ear hard.

Yusuke hissed and wrangled his ear back from Genkai. He looked ready to say something else when Kuwabara let out a soft moan in his sleep.

All eyes fell to Kuwabara, but Yusuke's whole body jolted with reaction. He leaned down, pressing a concerned hand to Kuwabara's forehead, his other hand squeezing Kuwabara's wrist. Yusuke's eyes danced over Kuwabara's face, but eventually, he had to pull back letting out a tense breath.

"He still feels warm..." Yusuke muttered.

Usagi who had been watching Yusuke with a sympathetic and understanding eye reached out and touched Yusuke's arm. Yusuke flinched as a shiver ran through him. Her touch had been a soothing balm that coursed over his frayed nerves in one quick jolt. He looked up at her with surprise.

"Mr. Kuwabara has been through a lot. I know you want to get him out of here and away from this Lyrae person... but we could all work together. If Lyrae is a threat to you, he could be a threat to anyone. We can help you fight him."

Yusuke didn't answer, not knowing what to say.

"We could at least stay one more day," Kurama broke the silence, "He has a fever, he's asleep and I doubt he'll wake up easy. Lyrae isn't here, we have no way of detecting him... not doing anything or going anywhere if probably the best thing for us to do."

"Rei... I hate to impose, but could you put us up?" Genkai asked, glancing back at the shrine maiden.

"Of course Genkai, you are always welcome here...and I'll make rooms for your friends," Rei immediately answered.

"I want to stay in this room, where Kuwabara is," Yusuke firmly stated, "I need to keep an eye on him."

"I think that would be best for all of us," Kurama agreed, looking to Rei. 

The girl nodded, "That should be fine."

"Why don't we stay too. I know it's Sunday, but some of us can skip school, and help watch Kuwabara in shifts," Makoto suggested.

"Ughh school!" Usagi moaned, "How are we going to explain to Miss Haruna where Mr. Kuwabara is?!"

"Well using my computer I'm sure I can forge a letter from his email to the principal's," Ami suggested, "We can say his injury is acting up and he's going back to the hospital."

"What do we do if the principal wants proof?" Usagi asked working her lower lip with her teeth.

Ami blushed, "Well I can... take some papers from my mother and forge a document..."

"Whoa, Ami! Way to go!" Minako crowed, the brainy girl only blushing harder.

"I can help you write up that letter," Kurama suggested rising to his feet, "I understand Kuwabara's mannerisms, I think I can help forge a convincing letter to fool his boss."

He approached Ami, the girl clearly intimidated by the attractive older man. Ami mumbled something towards Kurama, and motioned for the man to follow her so that they could begin to work on the email. Makoto followed the pair, her eyes on Kurama. She did not want to leave Ami alone with the young man, still uncertain about Kurama's status as an ally.

The group reluctantly began to depart making their own plans. Things, for now, were getting settled. Yusuke remained seated at Kuwabara's side. Sighing, he laid back on the ground, rolling onto his side and propping his head up with his elbow. He would keep watch of Kuwabara, as he had done before a year ago. He frowned at Kuwabara's pale distressed face and gently touched the nightmare induced wrinkle in Kuwabara's brow.

"Hang in there man..."

 

 


 

 

Kuwabara was holding Helios' hand, and they were falling through vivid liquid colors.

He opened his mouth to scream in shock and instinctive terror, but only red, orange, and yellow bubbles disrupted the liquid. 

Helios squeezed his hand, in what must have been reassurance, but Kuwabara was not comforted.

With an eruption of brilliant light, he was finally on stable ground, gasping and wheezing. Helios still held his hand, standing near the large man as he coughed and shook from the strange experience. The ghostly hand of the woman returned, and he heard her whisper in his ear.

"Look."

With a shuddering wheeze, he looked up.

 


 

 

The castle was crumbling. 

Lyrae's wrath was too great to be dissuaded, and if Epsilon wasn't going to be his, then Epsilon would be destroyed.

Epsilon had gathered the only surviving members of his court to the throne room and placed a clammy hand on his forehead. Four battle worn concerned faces watched their sovereign pace.

"Can I not save any of them?" Epsilon whispered, voice cracking as he spoke, "Not one life? Not my citizens, not my friends?!"

"Epsilon, you can't blame yourself!" His advisor spoke, a hand catching Epsilon by his cloak of sunset.

Epsilon stopped pacing, but kept a hand on his brow his eyes frantic, "I could have surrendered to his will. I could have-"

"Don't be ridiculous!" His Commander of his armies snapped, "Your brother is the type of man to destroy everything even if he got what he wanted. Don't play stupid!"

"What good would it be to put yourself through what he wanted?" his elite knight snapped, hand gripping Epsilon's wrist, "He would destroy everything you are. All of it. And then what's happening now... would have still taken place."

"Please, Epsilon...don't despair," his teacher begged, her eyes flooded with tears.

"I could have saved them, there was a way," Epsilon whispered his voice broken. He could not meet his friend's eyes, "If I would just..." He looked at his hand. His eyes held a secret that was weighing on him like a heavy mantle. His hand glowed briefly, but he closed his fist, and pressed it to the bridge of his nose, "But I made... a promise. And if I break it... who will I hurt? Thousands... millions...? The entire universe corrupted... not even for my parents, for my people, for you my closest friends... I can't break it. I am so ashamed of myself I can't face you! My weakness is pathetic."

"What is weak about keeping a promise?" the knight snarled, the dulled stars of his armor flashing in the light as he reached for Epsilon. His hands fell to the young man's shoulders and he spun him around hard, "Lord Epsilon, listen here! You can't regret what is happening. You did not get us here, you did not make the choices that led to today. Lyrae did. The only regret I have right now is not being strong enough to stop all this, and let you live out a long and happy life..." The knight trailed his hands down Epsilon's arms and took the young man's hands. He squeezed them before speaking again, "But I am strong enough to die with you."

"We will all die alongside you," the voices of Epsilon's court agreed.

"There is no need for that..." a soft gentle voice spoke.

The group turned, startled by the sound of a new voice. 

A woman dressed in splendid white, with pale white and lavender streams of hair billowing around her, stood tall before the group. Behind her was a white door, wide open, and completely foreign to the group. There had never been such a door in this room. 

As the woman stepped closer, the group recognized her, and all fell to a knee bowing before the well renowned Queen.

"Queen Serenity!" Epsilon gasped, surprised to see the woman.

"I came... late," The Queen whispered, her eyes misted with tears, "Your mother was my dearest friend... and I... I am so sorry to be so late. I can't go back and save your parents, but I can save you and what is left of your court right now. Please. Please, come with me."

"My Queen, I beg you, take my court," Epsilon said words rushed, "But leave me here. If I go-Lyrae will pursue us and attack your kingdom!"

Epsilon was punched square in the face by the knight at his side. Rather comically, the rest of the group surrounding Epsilon had raised their hands as if to strike him. The Commander made a disappointed sound as he dropped his hand.

The Queen smiled, placing her fingers against her lips briefly to stifle a laugh.

The castle shook and a great tearing sound echoed around them, reminding them all of what was transpiring outside. Queen Serenity straightened before reaching out and taking Epsilon's face, "My darling boy. You are loved by your people, and you are honoring a promise. Even if that was all I knew about you, I would take you with me. But you are also the beloved son of my friend... and now all that is left of her. Let me save you. Lyrae be damned, if he comes for you I will use all my strength to end him. Let me save you and your friends."

Epsilon bowed his head, "Thank you... I could never thank you enough."

She pointed the door hurrying the small group on. One by one they passed through the white door, before Epsilon and the Queen followed.

"My Queen, my people and I will serve you. What gifts we have are now yours. With all our strength we will help you in whatever you endeavor."

The Queen placed a gentle hand on the boy's auburn curls, "You speak so well in courtly manners. But my dear boy... you have lost so much. Please... feel free to mourn."

Epsilon's lower lips trembled and his chin fell to his chest as he let out a weak sob. He could not speak, but his sorrowful expression was mingled with one of gratitude. The Queen placed a strong protective arm around his shoulders and led him into the white light of the door.

The light flashed intensely flooding everything with light and...

 


 

 

Kuwabara woke up.

 


 

End of chapter 10

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Kuwabara woke up.

It was not a slow waking into a comfortable sleepy moment, but rather an abrupt awareness. He had been asleep, and the next moment he wasn't. The dreams were gone, and he was awake in the silence of a darkened room.

Helios had kept his word.

Kuwabara remained still, staring at an unfamiliar ceiling as he got his bearings. He was laying on a pallet, tucked comfortably into the folds of blankets. There was a warm weight against the left side of his body, and something narrow and firm draped across his waist. He blinked in the darkness of the room, before bringing a hand to rub at his eyes. His hands were shakey, and his head hurt, all signs that he had slept much too long. With how the last few weeks had been, he'd be much happier if he could stay awake for at least the next 12 hours.

"Mr. Kuwabara, are you awake?" a soft voice to his right made him turn.

Usagi Tsukino was sitting to his right, leaned up against a couch. He was surprised to see her, as well as a bit confused. Those thoughts fell away as she began leaning forward, inching her way carefully from the couch. For a moment Kuwabara watched her, struggling to figure out why she was here in this darkened room. And then, like a white flash, he remembered what had happened to him hours ago. The strange girls. Monsters from shadows. The Sailor Scouts. A strange battle, filled with strange magic. A Flying Horse. A pink mirror ripping from his chest.

Usagi was Sailor Moon, the leader of the Sailor Scouts, one of the many people Koenma had sent him to find.

Kuwabara sat up quickly, about to launch into a thousand questions, when the weight that pressed against his left side groaned, and then the smaller weight against his stomach tried to tug him back down.

His head snapped downwards, and in awe, he stared at the face of his best friend who slept soundly, his arm tucked securely around Kuwabara's waist.

"Urameshi?"

"They arrived a little bit after you were attacked," Usagi whispered.

Kuwabara's head snapped over to Usagi, "They?"

"Yes, your friends," Usagi continued, "He came along with Hiei, Kurama, and an older woman. Genkai."

Kuwabara puffed up his cheeks with a breath, and then let it out explosively. Blinking rapidly he stared at Yusuke's arm, before reaching out and resting his hand palm down against it. He stroked his thumb over his best friend's skin, feeling his throat tighten. At last...Yusuke was here, and no doubt his other friends were nearby. God, he'd missed them-he'd missed him. Again he turned to his best friend, just so he could look at him and relearn every aspect of Yusuke's face. A sudden needy urge to shake Yusuke awake, just so he could hear his voice, and see Yusuke looking back at him--even if it was in anger--swept through him. He somehow managed to hold his feeling in check, remembering he had been on a secret mission for about a month.

If Yusuke and the others were here, then they must have all known all about it.

Cringing, Kuwabara turned his attention back to Usagi. It'd be better if he just let Yusuke sleep for now. He had a feeling if Yusuke woke now he would only be in for a screaming match. For now, he wanted to just be glad with the knowledge his friends were here before they inevitably chewed him out for putting himself in danger.

When he met his student's eyes, he saw she was studying him, watching him in a quiet thoughtful way that he hardly ever saw from the girl.

"Usagi... you're Sailor Moon?" Kuwabara asked finally.

"Yes... and you can make a glowing sword," Usagi said, a touch of humor to her tone.

Kuwabara rolled his eyes, fighting a grin, "That's not important-"

"Not important!" Usagi hissed, eyes wide, "I would love to create a glowing sword! I'd be so cool! Swoosh! Woosh!" Usagi mimicked the gestures of wielding a sword, swinging her arms haphazardly around. Kuwabara could not help it after seeing her wild movements; a smile broke onto his face. Fighting back quiet snickers he stopped her hands from moving with an amused and exasperated, "Usagi!"

"Does it come in pink?" The girl whispered smiling wide, mirth shining in her blue eyes.

"No, I can't control the color," Kuwabara sighed shaking his head, fighting the urge to smile, "But my sword is not what I want to talk about-"

"Why not?" Usagi asked, her voice still spoken in a hushed tone, "I don't know anyone that can make a glowing sword from thin air!"

"And I don't know any teenagers who can transform into superheroes!" Kuwabara hissed back.

Usagi's face set stubbornly, "Is this about to turn into a lecture? One of those from one adult to the young no-nothing teenager conversations?"

"No, more like from one concerned adult to a young girl-" Kuwabara stiffened as Yusuke made a grumbled sound next to him.

A quick look confirmed Yusuke was still sleeping, and Kuwabara slumped in his spot with a sigh, "Listen, let's not get too loud here. I don't need Urameshi waking up or he'll be yelling. And when he starts yelling, I'm sure the others will come in here to do the same. How about this... I ask a question, and then you ask a question? Can we do that Usagi?"

The blonde girl settled in her seat, her face relaxing as she nodded, "Yes."

Kuwabara opened his mouth to start but Usagi interrupted, "Me first!"

"Why you?" Kuwabara asked, trying hard not to whine.

"Ladies first!" Usagi said turning up her nose and smiling slyly.

Kuwabara sighed dropping his head to his chest for a moment. With a look of defeat, he gestured for Usagi to speak.

"You had a watch on your wrist," Usagi began, "Why were mine and my friends' voices recorded on it?"

Kuwabara blinked, a little surprised by her first question, "I was sent on a mission."

"A mission?" She prodded.

"Yes. Koenma... I'll explain him later, sent me here to investigate the odd energy spikes coming from this town. He had already sent others, and they explained that there were monsters, and people fighting those monsters. I came here to see if the saviors-if you girls were really helping or hurting. The watch was a tool meant to be used to gather evidence." Kuwabara touched his bare rest, "To be honest it recorded you girls by accident. I think it got slightly busted after I was attacked the first time in the park."

Usagi's shoulders sagged, she seemed a little relieved from Kuwabara's answer. After a moment she added, "You don't have to explain Koenma. Your friends sort of filled us in on everything and what you did in your past. I can't believe you actually worked for a God!"

Kuwabara chuckled, "More like volunteer work, there was no money."

Usagi snorted, "Oh I understand that!"

A comfortable silence lasted between them for a moment, and then Kuwabara asked, "So you're Sailor Moon...why?"

Usagi looked at Kuwabara for a long moment, it seemed she was almost looking for the answers in Kuwabara's face, "It's going to sound harsh... but in a way, I had no choice."

Kuwabara reached out and took Usagi's hand, frowning in concern. He didn't like the sound of that.

Usagi smiled, and squeezed Kuwabara's hand, holding tight as she continued to talk, "Well to start off with, one day I found Luna. She apparently had been wandering on her own looking for the sailor scouts so that they could find their princess and the Silver Imperium Crystal."

"Princess? Scouts? The Silver what?" Kuwabara interrupted.

Usagi sighed and waved at him, as if she could wave his confusion away, "Let me keep going, I'll explain as I go. Luna isn't just a cat she can talk-" She held up her hand again, "Don't make that face! Just believe me for now, and later you can see it with your own eyes! Anyways... Luna said that she had been sleeping, waiting for a time where these soldiers from the moon would be reborn. The Sailor scouts. When they were reborn, it also meant that the negaverse, a great evil, had also returned to try and harm the earth. So when she woke up she went looking for the soldiers who guarded the moon princess and the silver imperium crystal. According to Luna, the crystal was the most powerful thing in the cosmos. It can do great things... restore health, wipe out enemies... bring back to life an entire ruined world... but to use it is costly. And if someone bad got ahold of it, they might be able to corrupt it and use it for evil. Only those who ruled the Moon Kingdom can wield it, and that's why they were looking for the Princess."

"Only the Princess of the Moon Kingdom could handle the crystal, she and her line were the ones that used it for good," Usagi continued, a contemplative look coming over her face, "I don't know if the crystal's power is too tempting for others, but many others would use it, and have used it wrong. It can do so much good I really can't understand why you would use it in any other way..."

She was quiet for a moment before she shook her head and resumed her tale, "The first person Luna found was me, and I was Sailor Moon. She gave me this brooch and I could transform into Sailor Moon. I was stronger, faster, I could sense and feel things..." Usagi held out both her hands looking at them,"There are so many things I can do as Sailor Moon. In a funny way, it was like my body had been asleep the whole time. When I transformed I was fully alive... everything woke up! As fate would have it, my transformation came at the perfect time. At the same time I transformed, my friend Naru was in danger from monsters attacking her and her mom. I went to save them... and after that Luna kept insisting I help others. So I kept transforming, kept fighting."

"At first I complained a lot, heck I still complain!" Usagi sighed, "But if I'm honest, from the very first time I transformed I knew I was going to keep doing so. To keep everybody safe. Something deep inside me yearns for peace, for everyone and for myself. If there's peace then everyone can be happy, and like this deep instinct, that's what I want. So... at first, Luna and I were looking for all the soldiers that had been reborn. Later we found out that I was the princess-"

"Princess?" Kuwabara echoed staring open-mouthed at Usagi.

"Yep... from the...er... moon," Usagi chuckled dragging out her words as she flushed with embarrassment, her cheeks flushed.

"A real princess..." Kuwabara stared at Usagi in amazement. He could recall his childhood, of always wanting to meet a princess. He always imagined them to be more beautiful than any other person on earth. Usagi was charming, was silly, was emotional, and hyper-active... she was a normal teenaged girl, with an incredible compassion for others. He smiled warmly, "With how wonderful you are, I can believe it."

Usagi blushed bright red, and smiled, flattered by the compliment.

"So... You are Princess Kaguya?" Kuwabara asked recalling the story of the little princess who was found in bamboo. She was from the moon if he remembered correctly.

Usagi laughed, "No... in the past, I was called Princess Serenity. I lived on the Moon during a time called the Silver Millennium. The people of the moon lived in harmony with the people of earth... but the negaverse poisoned the people's relationship. Using its influence, it tainted the relationship between the earth and moon and caused the two planets to mistrust one another. All this was done in the efforts to take the Imperium Silver Crystal. Before the peak of the war, I fell in love with a prince of Earth, Endymion."

Usagi smiled, her eyes growing heavy-lidded as she recalled memories of her past and the memories of the man she loved now. "You've met him. It's Mamoru. He died protecting me, and I died soon after. My mother, the Queen, used the Silver Crystal to bring everyone back and sent us all to a time where we could be reborn and live out our lives happily."

"The crystal can really do all that?" Kuwabara asked interrupting her amazing story. He was in awe of this beautiful story Usagi was weaving... and doubtful. There was a part of his brain that couldn't believe the crazy story, it was too much like a fairy tale. And yet another part could believe her. After everything he, himself, had experienced, how could he say Usagi was lying? He had been through some unbelievable things himself. Working for a God, the Prince of Spirit World, to stop demons and humans from harming people of Earth, or doing some sort of dastardly deed... his life seemed far-fetched too if he looked back at it.

Usagi smiled, her eyes soft and sad, "Yes. The crystal has great, great power. It really is the most powerful item in the universe, it is so powerful... Unfortunately, wielding its power can cost too much. It killed the Queen. It was too much of a strain. The last act she did was send the Silver crystal with us to appear somewhere on the Earth. As it turned out the crystal was inside my body," Usagi paused at Kuwabara's surprised face, and laughed, "I know. It all sounds so crazy... but it's all true. The crystal needed to be protected, and so it was within my body. When my memories began to return, at the height of my worst sorrow, my tears turned to the crystal."

"The height of your sorrow?" Kuwabara repeated. Usagi was slowly sounding less like herself. Like she was drifting between the girl she was, and someone else.

Usagi smiled, blinking her eyes rapidly to bring herself back to the present, "During our fights with the negaverse, our enemies tried to kill me, and Mamoru took the attack. He was dying before me... and seeing that, well, I guess it was too much like what had happened to Princess Serenity and Endymion in the past. Everything came rushing back, and I changed back into the Princess Serenity, and my tears turned into the Silver Crystal. There's... so much more but let me just sum it up. Luna and I did find the scouts, we found the crystal, I remembered being the princess, all of us got our memories back, and finally defeated the negaverse. You would think that we could relax but... we're meant to protect the earth. And enemies keep showing up... so we'll keep taking care of everyone until the day... the world is safe."

"Where are these enemies coming from? You said you defeated the neag-whatever right?" Kuwabara asked, brow furrowed.

"We've faced... many problems. Some are old enemies from our former life, some are threats even from the future. We don't know where these forces come from... I think they are drawn here by the Crystal. Whatever the reason... if their intent is to hurt the people of this planet... we'll stop them. It's... our duty," Usagi smiled, a touch of sadness in her voice.

Kuwabara swallowed hard, sensing that she had some regret there. He couldn't imagine... well actually, he could. He and his friends had faced insane odds to protect mankind, but they had all sort of volunteered for it. Or at least he had. But there were no past lives or expectations from their actions. They had all been, more or less, "retired," from spirit world duties. Yusuke had served his time as it was, Hiei and Kurama too... and since his friends weren't fighting he had no need either. They rarely aided Koenma with any missions these days, and even then it was still their choice to make if they helped. It sounded like Usagi and the other girls had no choice to do what they were doing, with no end of stopping in sight.

It was their predestined duty all because of a past life.

"I'm sorry," Kuwabara found himself saying, "You're so young to have to deal with all this. None of it's fair. You should be able to live your life as a normal teenager. If I could..." Kuwabara trailed off not knowing what to say. If he could he'd take her place. Fight all these monsters in her stead, handle all the hardships. It felt too forward a thought to voice, but it was really what he wanted. To protect this young girl and her happy future...

Usagi smiled, "It's not all bad... being Sailor Moon has brought me a lot. I wouldn't have some of the things I have now if I hadn't been the Moon Princess... if I never become Sailor Moon. I have friends. Wonderful friends. And a boyfriend, who I love... my prince," She blushed sweetly, and Kuwabara smiled at her as she swept him up in her charming nature once again, "I even met my child from the future if you can believe it."

"That sounds... maybe a little too crazy," Kuwabara admitted.

Usagi snorted and punched Kuwabara in the arm. He grunted, and then both were clamping hands against the other's mouths as Yusuke grumbled and rolled over. Their chatter had almost woken him. After a few tense moments they lowered their hands, and both breathed a supply of relief. They looked at each other and then covered their mouths as they almost burst into giggles.

"Really... I know it must sound... crazy. But Chibi-Usa, she's mine and Mamoru's daughter from the future."

Kuwabara wanted to deny it, but instead, he felt a little 'A-ha!' go off in the back of his brain. There had been this off feeling wiggling in the back of his head every time he saw Chibi-Usa with Usagi. He sighed, "It still sounds crazy, but I actually believe it. There's so much similarity between you two!"

Usagi smiled proudly, "You should tell her that! She's got such a little complex about not being like me or Mamoru. She's a perfect mix of both us! She's charming and so smart, she's a perfect little kid... for a brat."

Kuwabara chuckled. Despite Usagi's name-calling, her voice dripped with love towards the younger girl.

Usagi puffed up her chest proudly, "Chibi-Usa's from a future called Crystal Tokyo. If all goes well I'll be with her forever in the future. Ami says that it might be a little different... time loops are stange like that. I don't fully understand, but I know I'll be with her and my friends, and my Mamo-chan. That's enough."

Kuwabara scrunched up his face, "She won't stay here with you?"

Usagi smiled, "No, she can't forever. She's just here, for now, training and one day she'll have to go back to the future so she can protect our world in her time. She had a whole other life she'll have to return to. I'm just lucky enough to get to spend time with her now."

Kuwabara let out another explosive breath. His brain was feeling really overloaded. This was an insane story, with information he only half understood. He wasn't sure if he should ask for more information, or just try to accept what she told him.

"Hey...I answered a lot of questions! You haven't answered much of mine!" Usagi suddenly pointed out, her face taking that of a pout.

"Ah, sorry, sorry..." Kuwabara sighed, "What do you want to know? I'm not sure what my friends told you but I imagine it's a lot. Surely there's not much left..."

"What happened to your leg?"

Kuwabara felt his throat close up and his breath leave him in a painful gush. His heart stuttered, and his head whipped up so fast he heard his neck crack. Usagi's gaze met his own, and he imagined her terrified face mirrored his own. She knew what she was asking, and was expecting a terrible story. But she had asked, and was clearly ready and bracing herself for his answer.

Gently, he reached out and took both her hands squeezing them, "...If I start telling you now, I don't know if I could stop." His voice was strained and rasping, dry as sandpaper.

Usagi's lips became a hard line and her eyes misted over.

"There's something about you Usagi that makes me feel extremely protective. As if you are my own little sister... I always want to tell you the truth. This... I haven't spoken about this in a year. Nothing more than I had to... so if I start telling you now... I think it will all just spill out of me. Like a wave. Are you sure... you want to know? I wouldn't ask you to bare this, but if you ask me... I feel I must tell you."

Usagi's eyes were shining with preemptive tears, and she nodded her head firmly, her hands holding his tight, "I feel like...I need to know.  Not because I want to know, but because you need to talk about it..." There was more she needed to say. She had felt this connection to Kuwabara since their first meeting. Since he smiled at her and held Luna, something had been there between the two. A thin connection pulling her along, trying to make her remember something she didn't know. Somehow... she and Kuwabara were connected, and she couldn't explain it. She needed to hear this story, and he needed to tell it. "Please tell me Mr. Kuwabara."

Kuwabara sighed, his voice a little shakey. He looked at their clasped hands, and then finally back to her face. He smiled weakly, "I won't be able to stop. No matter what."

She nodded her head, taking in and letting out a couple of shaking breaths. She squeezed their hands tight, holding on to him for strength. She was ready to listen.

"I've never even fully explained it to my friends... bits and pieces here or there," Kuwabara rambled, "I don't think even know if I can describe everything that happened, it would do no good revisiting all that darkness..." He let out a bitter sigh and looked back at Usagi. This young girl was... something. She was like a beacon of light; a soothing balm meant to take the pain away. He wanted to keep this girl safe, and follow her. He couldn't explain these feelings, but he'd had them since he first met her. They had been so small then, just a spark. But now they burned bright, and he wanted to wave a banner and help her in whatever endeavor she had.

He couldn't explain this spell, this devotion, the familiarity... he could only hope his instincts were right. 

"A year ago," Kuwabara began his voice slow and deep, "A year ago when I was in school, a new classmate approached me asking for help with English. I tutored her, and we became friends. It was nice... making a friend who wasn't just fascinated with me because of my psychic abilities. I had made quite a name for myself back at college when I predicted an earthquake. But she met me after all that and sought me out as a tutor. And then after that, she sought me out as a friend. It was nice having someone who felt like a real friend... especially because my friends were gone for their third tournament in the Makai."

Kuwabara took in a breath to calm his nerves. Glancing at Usagi's slightly confused face he explained, "The demon world, also known as the Makai, is a dimension next to ours. The world is ruled by very powerful demons... and they decide who will be the king of that world through a tournament. That had been Yusuke's big plan... and it worked like a charm!" Kuwabara cast a warm smile at his best friend's back, "Just by being his usual stubborn, and fight-ready self, he changed a whole world. And for the better even... The tournament decides the king, as I said, and it takes place every three years. They were finishing that fight while I was still working on getting my education."

Kuwabara cleared his throat.

"I thought Harumi... was my friend. Someone who had shown up when I was... alone and lonely. I called it being homesick. I'm happiest when I'm with my friends..." Kuwabara touched his heart with a trembling hand, an embarrassed flush coloring his ears and cheeks, "They are my home. And without them... I was lost. So meeting Harumi... helped. But then she, well tried to seduce me. It's embarrassing to say that aloud... apparently her flirting had been fairly... heavy-handed and they had all gone over my head. But I...there's someone..."

Kuwabara cleared his throat, keeping his embarrassed gaze from Usagi's. It was a little humiliating to be talking to such a young girl about his feelings. He cleared his throat and mumbled, "I had dated a girl named Yukina, briefly before, and while it was only one date, with her I realized... I liked someone else. Once I realized I liked someone else... its like I've had blinders on to anyone else. No one was as good as them. As Strong. As funny. There was no one I wanted more..." Kuwabara could see Usagi's beaming smile at him and he coughed trying to hurry along, "Anyways... I love someone else. And that wasn't Harumi, and never could be.  I apologized and explained. She took it well... or at least she appeared too."

Kuwabara took Usagi's hands, looking at them rather than her wide eyes. It was clear she could sense the worst part of the story was coming. Kuwabara took in a breath, and took comfort in the warm girl's hands before continuing, "A couple days later, when I came home from school, I found my cat dead at my doorstep. My Eikitchi," Kuwabara's breath hitched, and Usagi's fingers trembled and wrapped around his thumb.

"My precious Eikitchi had been murdered, it was not a natural death. I was horrified to see her dead, but I also... I lived with my sister and I thought that she was inside... needing me and maybe even... I couldn't think, the thought that my sister was hurt made me reckless-and I stormed into the room! I could have used my spiritual awareness to feel out the room, to feel out if she was inside, but I ran blindly inside instead. It was so stupid..."

"How could you even try to blame yourself?" Usagi whispered, her voice filled with emotion, "You were scared! Who could be cautious?!"

"I should have known better," Kuwabara argued.

Usagi grabbed Kuwabara's shoulder, and he was forced to look at her. Tears streamed down her flushed cheeks, as her eyes bore into the injured parts of his soul.

"How? How should you?" Usagi hissed, "Your sister... when love is concerned. Who can think straight? You just wanted to help! Whatever happened, whatever you're about to tell me, is not your doing! You didn't choose for someone to hurt you and your family-they chose it! You're not the one to blame here!"

Kuwabara sniffed, and dropped his head, coughing uncomfortably as a few tears fell from his eyes. He wiped them with numb fingers and began to speak, his voice cracking as he did, "What I met instead was Harumi. She was no human, but a demon, a bad one and she had laid a trap for me. Gained my trust, gotten me to lower my defenses... so she could trap me and use me for her means. I'm so grateful... I'm so lucky, that my sister wasn't home that day. The moment I entered the room, she overpowered me and snatched me away. Before she carried me off I saw Urameshi's scared face. He had returned... only to witness my abduction." Kuwabara closed his eyes, fighting the memory of Yusuke's horrified face, "I passed out after... and woke up in a lab. She informed me she had once been human, and that an old enemy of mine had turned her into a demon."

"This enemy, me and Urameshi stopped him. Well... Urameshi did most of the work, but I had helped I suppose. This enemy's name was Dr. Ichigaki, and he had been using humans for his experiments, for years as it turned out. He had even taken Harumi from the human world when she was a little girl. He tortured Harumi and twisted her to be like him, a mad raving scientist. When we took Dr. Ichigaki out she plotted her revenge. And her revenge involved me becoming her lover and working with her to hurt my friends... as if I would ever. When it was clear I wasn't going to fall for her, she went to her next plan. She would turn me into a demon, as she had been turned. Her plan would take days of torture... and forcing demonic energy into my body."

The words spilled from his lips like water from a busted dam. There was no stopping now.

"A human's body is not meant to maintain demonic energy. From my understanding, most people lose their minds if they change from one thing to another. And even if they don't they are still damaged. Becoming something you are not meant to be... even if by choice can do such harm. Taking on too much power... it affects you in the darkest of ways. I knew two men that did it by choice, and one became sadistic and cruel, while the other used it as means to hide how much he'd been hurt by a personal loss..." Kuwabara closed his eyes as he remembered the Toguro brothers.

Meeting them had left an impression. They had been changed from humans to demons, and if Genkai was to be believed, neither of them were like what they used to be when they were humans. Genkai had described the younger Toguro brother as gentle and kind, she had loved him so much. The older brother had always been a little crueler, a little more selfish, but still good when it came down to it. But when they became demons... something had changed. Genkai had looked so pained and so bitter... if nothing else, her sorrow alone made him fear this transformation from human to demon. He had even been worried about Yusuke when he changed into his full Mazoku form. It was a relief to learn Yusuke had been a demon all along and his personality remained largely unchanged...

When Harumi had told him she would change him, Kuwabara's first thoughts had been, 'How do I hang on to myself? How do I save my mind?'  He had, in the back of his mind, found the prospect of being a demon appealing. He could be with his friends longer, he could freely enjoy demon world... he would be with Yusuke. But it was a dream he did not dare reach for, not when it twisted people up so much. He had never been so afraid when Harumi offered him his secret desire.

He was with her for such a short time... but after just that one day, he knew his mind would snap. How could you stand all the pain? How could he get past the burning that started at his toes and was crawling up his leg? His mind needed a reprieve, a place to go...he was going to lose it! If Harumi had succeeded... he would never be Kuwabara again. He would have been... a monster.

"Mr. Kuwabara?" Usagi whispered, breaking Kuwabara's thoughts.

He had stopped talking without realizing. He blinked, and took in a breath, coughing roughly. He had apparently stopped breathing as well, and his lungs burned for relief.

"It's alright Mr. Kuwabara! You can stop!" Usagi whispered, her voice shaking. She was afraid now, afraid of Kuwabara's raw pain. He was such a big man, so tall and muscular. But he was now slumped and sagging, his story was bringing him so low, "Please, you can stop!"

But he could not.

Lifting his ching he pressed on, "Most human minds can't take such a transformation and they snap. Harumi was a genius, but she was also insane... as insane as her father. I'd wager that Ichigaki intentionally broke her, so he could shape this human girl into the demon child he desired. And Harumi intended to do the same to me. Turn me into a monster of her creation, and then unleash me on my friends. She had me a little less than twenty-four hours, but I'll never forget the pain of that terrible day..."

Kuwabara's hand instinctively went to his leg, and he squeezed it, gritting his teeth. Kuwabara had the muscle and skin from his leg carved away, and electric shocks were sent coursing through his body. All this was done so she could hook up strange mechanisms to his leg, that would attach demonic energy to his life force. The electric shocks would make his spirit energy and life force flare up, and with her tools, she would weave all three forces together. It was maddening and painful.

"When I was rescued I was in a terrible state. For days I had fever, and they thought I would die. My heart even stopped for a moment, but Kurama revived me. Kurama worked on saving me and my leg, but he couldn't do it alone. They had to enlist the help of another genius to help treat me, Yomi, to pull the demonic energy that had become tangled with my human life-force. Even though I was in no threat of being turned into the demon, the demonic energy left inside me was too strong for me. It could kill me if it had no outlet, so removal was the only option. They managed to help me for the most part, but small traces of demonic energy remain in my leg. They can't take it all out, it's been too marred together with my life-force. If they removed it all, some of my life would go with it...maybe even most of it. Yomi, the man who helped my friends save me, couldn't do anything. Not even cutting my leg off would help. The energy would just spread up and the energy would keep trying to take over until it killed me."

"Instead, once I was stable, he had to teach me a way to focus my own energy on my leg. For a long time, I had to constantly cycle my power down to my leg, constantly suppressing the energy that gnawed at me. It hurt like hell. Always. And my leg was deformed and that added to my pain. I had to relearn how to walk and accept that I could no longer train like I used to, could no longer fight. I never felt so useless! After almost a year of work, my energy is stable and naturally acts as a suppressant against the demon energy. Maybe one day we can figure out a way to safely remove it all, but until then I'm stuck with a limp, I'm stuck with pain..."

Kuwabara let out a shuddering broken sigh, "Yomi said unless we figure it out my leg will be like this forever. A limp forever... pain forever," Kuwabara tangled a hand into his curls, "This damned leg! I just... all I wanted was to stay at my friends' sides. To continue to fight with them as long as I could. To go where ever the went, to be with them... it's all I ever wanted! I know I'm human, I'll die before they ever even begin to age, but I had thought I would have so much time! So much more! So much more time to go on adventures with them, to fight with them, or fight for them! Just... so much more time to be with them... but I can't. I can't do that now like this! It's caused a rift between us... I'm weak and pathetic. I'm like a lame animal... they can barely stand to be with me."

"That's not true!" Usagi's weeping voice broke through, "They love you. I could see it the moment they came here! But with everything you went through... they must feel so awful! You are their precious friend... and If I was them I would feel responsible! I would have wanted to save you from this pain! How they must have felt to come home, and find you're in danger. And they missed out on saving you! And even when they did rescue you... the pain I would feel if I was late! They wanted to save you sooner, to give you everything you wanted! They aren't trying to leave you, they just can't look you in the eye! They shouldn't feel it, but they must feel such shame... I would be so guilty... When something happens to your friends, and you might have helped-no matter how slim the chance!-you can't help be feel guilt and pain. They don't want to leave you, you all just went through so much! They'd never leave you if they knew how you felt! I'm sure of it!"

Usagi threw her arms around Kuwabara after her impassioned speech and he caught her and held the young girl against him as she wept into his shoulder. He held her and spared a few tears against her hair as he trembled to the core. She had struck him in a way that he couldn't explain, and her words had helped him put the fractured confused pieces of his emotions back together. He felt... lighter. As if he'd finally let go of something he had been struggling with, something far too heavy for one person to bare.

"You and Chibi-Usa... you're both so smart. You know what to say and do..." Kuwabara chuckled after a long silence, "You both have encouraged me to talk to my friends... it's so simple. I don't know why...I've never tried."

"Things are always simple to someone on the outside! If I was you, I would need someone to tell me too!" Usagi assured, her voice choked with emotion. She pulled back to look at Kuwabara, "You're all... you're all suffering. You need to talk. I know, I just know they wouldn't leave you. Any more than you could leave them! Talk with them. Promise me?"

He shivered as a chill ran over him as the last of his tears fell away. Kuwabara nodded, drying his face as he made his silent promise. He felt wrung dry. Like an empty husk. 

Usagi ran her hands up and down Kuwabara's arms sensing the exhaustion that had suddenly come over him. She was still sniffling, overpowered by all sorts of emotions. Her head ached from her tears, and her mouth was dry. She could only guess how he was doing. The story had been hard on her teacher. She had never thought she'd see a man, let alone her teacher, break down in such a way. The only one who had come close to weeping in front of her like this was Mamoru. She hoped in the future, if Mamoru ever needed, she'd be able to listen to him, just as she'd done for Kuwabara now.

After a minute, she dried her face with her sleeve and asked, "Are you thirsty? Let me get you some water." 

She then hurried to her feet, stumbling around in the darkness before she found a door and hastily exited.

Kuwabara took in long steady breaths, letting go of his old pains and memories. It had been much harder to say all that, but as he thought, the moment he started he couldn't stop. He was relieved to have all the words out, but now that he'd let it all out he felt...empty. Kuwabara wasn't sure if it was... good to feel as he did. He hadn't expected to feel this way after talking. He wished he could sleep, but his body was too awake. He had already had too much sleep, and so would have to sit awake with this emptiness in his gut. He wasn't sure if he could do that...

Kuwabara's whole body jolted as arms hooked around him from behind. He struggled for a moment but the grip that had him was like iron. He was tugged low, and close, a hand coming up to press against his forehead and tangle in his hair.

"Kuwabara," Yusuke's soft voice soothed before Kuwabara flew into a blind panic from being grabbed.

"Y-You're awake?" Kuwabara whispered, unable to turn and look at his friend.

"Yeah," he answered, "I'm awake. Woke up... and heard it all." Yusuke's arms squeezed tighter around Kuwabara.

Kuwabara's empty insides twisted, and fear poured into his gut. For a terrifying moment, Kuwabara thought he might puke.

"Please forgive me Kuwabara," Yusuke's voice cracked in a way that let Kuwabara know he was crying.

"U-Urameshi?" 

"No one, least of all me... wanted to make you feel... alone."

Kuwabara tried to turn, twisting to try and get a look at his best friend. But Yusuke was holding him so firmly, and at such an awkward angle Kuwabara couldn't find his face. Voice tight with the emotions he had just spilled, Kuwabara let out a low growl, "Damn you Urameshi! Let me turn! Let me see-!!"

Yusuke's grip was loosened and Kuwabara was able to shift and turn to face the man he had been yearning to see for so long. And then they were face to face, and Kuwabara was looking at his best friend. Yusuke's face was bitter and unhappy, his eyes angry and filled with tears. After their eyes met, Yusuke reached behind Kuwabara cupping the back of his head and pressed their foreheads together. Yusuke took in a ragged breath and pressed his brow hard to Kuwabara's, so hard it hurt. In response Kuwabara slid his hand over Yusuke's shoulder and around his neck, awkwardly grasping what he could of Yusuke's shirt.

The two said nothing. The could only grasp each other and stare. There was so much to say after all, and neither of them was ever very good at starting.

"Hey Kuwabara," Yusuke finally croaked, tugging some of Kuwabara's hair in a tight grip.

"...Hey," Kuwabara managed after a long moment. 

"I've messed up," Yusuke blurted, his voice raw and angry, "I've fucked up. I was so... I dunno. I left you behind. I never meant to."

Kuwabara dropped his head down and felt a sob rip from his chest. He bunched up Yusuke's shirt in his hand, whispering, "I fucked up too. I don't know why I stopped trying to... to talk to you guys. I would have never just quietly taken something before... I just..."

"How could you talk to us if we were so busy trying to protect you we couldn't spend one Goddamn moment with you?!" Yusuke tugged Kuwabara forward and crushed the man into a hug.

Trembling with the torrent of emotions crashing against him, Kuwabara clung to his best friend and wept openly on his neck.

"We're not going to leave you behind. Ever again. I'll never leave you," Yusuke promised his breath in Kuwabara's ear.

There was so much left to say, but a hug was a good place to start.

 


End of chapter 11 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Usagi did not return that night, and Kuwabara did not get any sleep. 

In the quiet of the room, somewhere in Rei's temple, he and Yusuke talked. They talked about school, about traveling, fights they wanted to do, and movies they missed. They talked about what they would do in the future, and what they wanted to do when everything was over. They laughed, they argued, and apologized for the hundreds of missteps they had both made in the past year.

They did not talk about Lyrae, or the Sailor Scouts, or any of the approaching danger.

When Kuwabara tried, Yusuke gently silenced Kuwabara with a shake of his head.

"Not now. Just... not yet. For now, I want to talk to you, as my friend. Let's deal with the bullshit in the morning."

Kuwabara had smiled and complied... he had missed talking to his best friend.

Eventually, Yusuke could not speak anymore, and Kuwabara forced the man to take the pallet. Kuwabara was not going to sleep anymore, and therefore claimed he did not need it. After a small argument, and coaxing, Yusuke was asleep, Kuwabara sitting beside him, his hand clamped tightly within the demon's grasp. When Yusuke was asleep, the door behind him opened, and someone walked quietly inside. They sat down behind Kuwabara and pressed their back against his. Kuwabara caught the scent of roses and smiled quietly to himself.

"Hello, Kurama."

"Hello, Kazuma."

They said nothing more, and Kuwabara was sure that within minutes, Kurama had also nodded off as he sagged a little heavier against his shoulder. 

Kuwabara looked around for a window, expecting to see Hiei somewhere. But there was no window he could easily see without waking Kurama. There was such little light in the room as well that Kuwabara doubted he would see the man if he was somewhere. Not to mention, that Hiei was damn good about hiding his energy whenever he pleased. Kuwabara had doubted Hiei would even be there...

But there was one way to test it.

"Hiei?" Kuwabara had softly called, not expecting to receive an answer.

"What is it?" Hiei answered immediately, the location of his voice indeterminable.

Kuwabara felt his mouth open in surprise, and his eyebrows jumped into his hairline. After a moment, Kuwabara closed his mouth and a childish giggle escaped him. He was truly a lucky guy.

"Nothing," Kuwabara whispered, grinning from ear to ear.

"Idiot," was the reply, with no clues as to where Hiei was hiding himself.

Kuwabara remained the rest of the night, awake and happy in the company of his friends.

Now that it was morning, however, his back, neck, and leg were killing him from the weird position's he'd been kept in. In the company of his friends, and his students he could only lay horrified as Genkai massaged his sore body, and scolded him for his idiocy. 

"Sitting up all night in your condition!"

"But Master Genkai-"

"Injured leg! Attacked by weird girls! Just released from a hospital-"

"Genkai I'm really fine! I over-"

"-I thought Yusuke was the bigger dimwit! I thought you knew better!"

"I'm fine I said! Genkai! YOWCH!"

Genkai popped something in Kuwabara's shoulder that echoed into his neck. It was painful, but he felt some knots uncoil from his body as the pain eased away. As he grunted with pain and appreciation she smacked the back of his head muttering, "Idiot!"

Yusuke, Kurama, and Hiei stood on one side of the room, all looking amused as Kuwabara was lectured and rubbed down from Genkai. Kuwabara had stopped looking at Yusuke, as he would make inappropriate gestures while wiggling his eyebrows at Kuwabara and Genkai. The girls, well some of them, stood on the other side of the room. Usagi, Rei, Makoto, and Minako had skipped school and were watching with blatant amusement as Genkai rubbed Kuwabara down and his friends picked on him. Usagi and Minako were being especially loud in their giggling.

"There... you should have gotten some rest last night! Staying up to make googly eyes at your friends is in poor taste! We have to leave and move quickly today, you going without rest was just stupid!" Genkai snapped, rising from her spot over Kuwabara so that the man could get up.

"It's not like I need any more rest! I've been unconscious more than I've been awake this month!" Kuwabara protested irritably. He rolled to a sitting position and racked a hand through his curls. "And why am I needing to leave?"

"You're in danger," Kurama answered, his face growing hard and serious, "Someone is after you. They believe you to be... someone else..."

"Now wait!" Rei protested suddenly, "Should you all really just go?"

"We could help you!" Usagi added, her voice pleading and insistent.

"I'm sorry girls," Genkai spoke motioning for Kurama and Yusuke to come help Kuwabara stand, "It's better for us to leave. The enemy should follow us when we go, and that will keep the people here safe. We will regroup-"

"That's really stupid!" Minako cut in, her hands on her hips, "We can help. If you're here, your numbers more than double! We're not a bunch of defenseless kids. We're more than capable of fighting this Lyrae character!"

"Lyrae?" Kuwabara echoed trying to keep up with the arguments, even as Kurama and Yusuke appeared on either side of him and hoisted him up.

"Do you recognize that name?" Hiei asked from somewhere behind Kuwabara. His voice was oddly tense.

"No, not at all," Kuwabara answered as he let his friends hold him up. He squeezed Kurama and Yusuke's arms feeling the anxious energy come off them in waves, "Guys. I think you need to tell me what's going on!"

"At least stay to hear what Luna, Artemis, and Diana have to say about the star system! They said yesterday Epsilon Lyrae was a set of stars, right? And that there was a kingdom there. Master Genkai, doesn't it make sense to gather more information, as much as you can?!" Rei insisted, her body blocking the doorway.

"I don't want to endanger you girls any more than we already have," Genkai sighed, "Please stand aside."

"Now hold on a minute!" Kuwabara snapped, trying to pull away from Kurama and Yusuke.

"Kuwabara!"

"Take it easy man-your leg!"

"Stop! STOP!" Kuwabara snapped shouting at his friends trying to hold him, and then to the stunned Genkai. Kuwabara shook Kurama and Yusuke off of him, and swayed as he put his full weight on his leg; he grit his teeth as it throbbed uncomfortably before rounding on Yusuke, "Didn't you say you wouldn't leave me behind anymore? Not telling me shit, and sweeping me off to run away... it's just keeping me fucking lost! Don't you dare-" Kuwabara spun and glared at his friends, "Don't you guys dare leave me out of the loop, again! I'm not going to stand to be protected and kept in the dark anymore!"

Yusuke's face immediately crumpled in guilt, and even Kurama and Genkai looked a bit shamed.

Genkai opened her mouth, and Kuwabara pointed an accusing finger at her, "No!" he snapped, "Don't you dare say anything other than what the hell is going on! I don't want to hear any more excuses, I don't want any apologies-I want an explanation!"

"You deserve one."

Kuwabara was startled by Hiei's deep voice, and his hand on his back. Hiei had joined Kuwabara's side and now placed a firm hand at Kuwabara's hip, supporting the taller man. Hiei reached up and roughly guided one of Kuwabara's hands to rest on his shoulder. "Do not tire your leg out. Lean on me," Hiei instructed, before turning to look at Rei. "You think you have more information?" he asked the stunned shrine maiden.

Rei blinked and glanced around the room, taking in all their shocked faces. In the short time girls had met Hiei, they had not expected him to be the one to see reason. She returned her gaze to Hiei's eyes and saw his determined glare, ready to support Kuwabara and listen to what they had to say. A wave of... nostalgia flooded over Rei for a moment, but she shook her head to steady herself and answered, "Yes. We might. There's still more to tell--Diana has more to tell us! Hear us out... we can help each other."

Hiei nodded and then looked up to Kuwabara, "I won't keep things from you anymore. We're done with that nonsense now."

Kuwabara felt the most relieved grin slip onto his face, and he smiled wide at the unexpected support, "Thank you... Hiei... thank you!"

Yusuke frowned at the sight, feeling his hackles rise as Hiei received praise. Impatiently he threw up his arms, "Alright! Alright! Let's stay and listen! I'm... I'm sorry. Don't be mad Kuwabara!"

Then Yusuke slung his arm around Kuwabara's back, and rather childishly pulled Kuwabara's arm around his own shoulder, causing Kuwabara's body to be tugged closer to him and away from Hiei. Kuwabara looked down at Yusuke and smiled, the tension bleeding out of both their bodies as their eyes met. Hiei rolled his eyes.

"I'm sorry. I'm not trying to fall back to old habits," Yusuke said, voice softer than Kuwabara had heard it before.

Kuwabara kept his arm resting about Yusuke, and gently knocked his head on top of Yusuke's, "Well you're dumb so I'll forgive you."

Seeing that the room was settling, Rei stepped away from the doorway. "Come on. Let's go into my living room. We can sit more comfortably and talk this out. That weird blue thing-"

"Puu," Yusuke interrupted.

"...Puu..." Rei said doing her best to keep her face completely straight, "...has kept a shield up for us all night, and can no doubt continue to do so. I'm sure my own wards can help keep this Lyrae character away long enough for us to talk and plan."

"Yeah! He hasn't shown up by now, so maybe he can't find the place!" Usagi chirped happily, exiting the room first.

"He might not even know what or where Tokyo is!" 

 


 

Yukina had been vigilant for two days now. 

Patching Shizuru up had been short work, no problem. Making sure she was comfortable-easy. Tidying up the half-destroyed shrine, not too bad! Dealing with Shizuru's unexpected fever... that was proving to be more of a problem.

After Shizuru was stable from their incident with the "man from space," Shizuru had developed a fever and remained asleep for two days. Yukina had hardly left Shizuru's side. From dabbing the woman's head with a cloth, to changing her clothes, cleaning up vomit, giving her sponge baths... Yukina was prepared to do it all.

She would do anything for Shizuru.

Yukina also kept a vigilant eye on the phone. She hoped Genkai and the others would call if something happened to Kuwabara, or just if they found him. She knew Shizuru's first question would be about the safety of her brother, and Yukina wanted to be sure she had an answer. But days had gone by... and nothing. A knot twisted uncomfortably in her stomach as she continued to hear no news from the boys. She tried to reason with herself, Tokyo was about a day away, and then it would take time to find Kuwabara. 

No one knew his address but Botan, Koenma, and Shizuru. And unfortunately, all three were... indisposed.

But still... Genkai was with Yusuke, Hiei, and Kurama. Shouldn't they have found Kuwabara? Shouldn't they?  What if that man had found Kuwabara? What if Kuwabara got hurt again? Questions like these had haunted Yukina over the past 48 hours. She needed to be here with Shizuru... to take care of her... but the thought that her friend could be in danger made her sick. What would Shizuru want her to do? What should she do?

Yukina didn't know. She could only swallow over the lump in her throat, and follow her instincts to look after Shizuru. 

Hopefully, Yusuke would be looking after Kuwabara. 

She had just come back to Shizuru's side with a fresh bowl of water when she heard her name whispered in an exhausted breath.

Looking down at Shizuru, Yukina was shocked to see the woman's eyes were open and she was looking up at her.

"Oh, Shizuru! You're awake!" Yukina gasped her hands coming to Shizuru's face.

The older woman blinked sluggishly, her skin feverish beneath Yukina's hands. Shizuru's hands came up and pressed her hands over Yukina's forcing the maiden to squish Shizuru's cheeks.

"Your hands feel so good..." Shizuru murmured, "I'm so hot."

Yukina let out a breath, a fine cool mist parting from her lips. With calm breaths, but a racing heart, she concentrated on dropping the temperature of the room around them. The windows began to accumulate a fine sheen of frost as the air around them began to freeze.

Shizuru shuddered, her eyes closing as the cold swept around her. Her face twisted into an uncomfortable grimace.

"Oh! Oh no..." Yukaina whispered pulling her hands back, the room rapidly returning to its normal attention. "Shizuru I'm so sorry! I just thought-oh no! Are you alright-"

Shizuru reached out and grasped Yukina's hand. The woman was smiling at Yukina, a sheen of sweat crystalized against her cheek. "It's okay," Shizuru soothed smiling at Yukina, "It's okay... you're trying to help me. Don't get upset."

Tear gems clattered loudly to the floor as Yukina burst into tears, "Shizuru! I'm so sorry! You go hurt! And I thought... I thought I would have more to tell you! I thought when you woke up I could-"

Shizuru placed her hands flat on the ground and forced herself to sit up. She teetered forward and Yukina caught her shoulders helping keep her steady.

"Shizuru don't move! You still have a fever-"

Shizuru cut Yukina off by wrapping her arms firmly around the woman. She pulled the girl close, pressing her face against Yukina's hair. Her hot skin burned through Yukina's clothes, and the woman clung to her friend, heart racing, and mind reeling with concern.

"Don't cry Yukina..." Shizuru whispered, "Don't cry."

Shizuru clung to the woman, tear gems still falling down her face in gentle cascades. Sniffing Yukina burst, "You were so hurt! I've been so worried! I healed your body but, but you had this fever! And I couldn't fix that! I wanted to take care of you and have information on Kazuma for when you woke up! I'm sorry! I don't-"

"Yukina," Shizuru whispered, running a hand down the girl's hair, "I really wanted to protect you. I'm glad I did... but I didn't mean to make you cry. Please don't overburden yourself... everything you do makes me smile. Makes me happy." Shizuru's hands pried Yukina's hands away from her arms, and then she held the snow maiden's hands firmly in her own. Shizuru's eyes were shining as she stared at the hands in her grasp, "I've always wanted to... tell you how much..."

Shizuru coughed her shoulders shaking from the force.

"Shizuru!" Yukina rasped, a pleading note in her voice.

"I love my brother so much," Shizuru murmured, her words slurring together, "But after I got to know you... there were times I hated him. I wanted to be the one to make you smile and to take you out on a date. But I love my little brother. He deserves everything... he deserves you."

Yukina's mouth was open in shock, her cheeks stained red. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Shizuru pitched forward her fevered cheek resting against Yukina's bosom.

"Please... just for now let me be selfish. I'll give you back to him soon..." Shizuru murmured before she grew heavy and limp.

For a long still moment, Yukina let Shizuru's body sag heavily against hers. Eventually, she lowered the woman back down on her pallet and placed a cool cloth against her brow. She stared at Shizuru for a long time, her heart hammering in her chest and her stomach fluttering with hope. Taking a rattled breath, Yukina got up and headed for the kitchen.

She needed help.

Picking up the phone she dialed the number and waited. After three rings Yukina let out a sigh of relief, "Keiko? Please...I need some help."

 


 

 

It took a couple hours for Kuwabara to get caught up on all the information, and for the group to stop arguing over what should be done. More than once Kuwabara had to break up the arguments by pointing out he wasn't going anywhere without knowing everything. At one point, with a rather smug look on his face, Kuwabara even flared up his spiritual energy and sent a small (but rather harmless) jolt of energy at his friends who were being too, "Coddle-ey." After that, with halting words, Kuwabara was finally given all the information.

Kuwabara went from smug to concerned rather quickly.

Kuwabara was largely disturbed by the details on Lyrae. His flesh crawled as they spoke of Lyrae and his abrupt attack at Genkai's shrine. His stomach twisted anxiously, but these were all feelings he couldn't really explain. When asked if he knew anything about the name Kuwabara could only shake his head no, but something in the back of his head stirred with alarm.

Makoto and Kurama had gotten up and prepared a lunch with some nice tea as the groups went back and forth, over and over again on the same information. The food was distributed, and Luna finally spoke up, "I think we can all finally agree on what we do know, I think it's time we talk about the Epsilon Lyrae Kingdom. That is the unknown factor here."

Kuwabara was grinning wide, a mouthful of food smooshed into his cheek. He had greeted the cats enthusiastically when he saw them and had been over the moon when they greeted him back. Every time the animals spoke Kuwabara would look around at his friends and just grin with an excited child-like glee.

"We're all ears Luna," Genkai confirmed, settling herself comfortably on her cushion as she sipped her tea.

Luna exchanged a look with Artemis, "Actually we don't know too much. We can only give some information about its fall...but not much after that."

"The Epsilon Lyrae kingdom existed before we were even born," Artemis continued. 

Diana climbed on top of her dad, her front paws smooshing down one of his ears as she balanced herself about his shoulders and head, "It exists in my time though!"

"Then Artemis and I will start with what we know about the past, and you can tell us about the future," Luna supplied, nuzzling the kitten's cheek. Diana leaned so hard into the nuzzle she fell off of Artemis, tumbling forward on to the table.

Luna settled herself down, her tail swishing, "Before either I or Artemis was born, Epsilon Lyrae was a star system that is made up of four stars. From a distance, it looks like two, but under closer inspection, it is indeed four. A rather nice... optical illusion. The stars belonged to one kingdom, the Epsilon Lyrae Kingdom. The King and Queen of that Kingdom were friends to Queen Serenity. After many years of trying, they had managed to have their first child, Lyrae. Queen Serenity was his Godmother, but when she met the child she sensed something was wrong. Against her better judgment, she kept this information to her herself."

"What did she sense about Lyrae that was wrong?" Usagi interrupted, her eyes fixed on her guardian.

"The Queen said she sensed a power that was... tainted. Obsessive. Terrible and strong, a power that needed to be watched. The child had the potential to be a great leader, with formidable strength. But his personality was... clingy... spoiled. He was demanding, and always sought to get his way. If he liked something then it had to be his, and when he had it he'd love it so much it would ruin. And he delighted in its ruin. His parents tried to help the child with his difficulties, but all it seemed to do was help Lyrae know how to hide his odd tendencies better," Luna's tail swished thoughtfully, "The Queen talked about it a lot whenever the old kingdom was brought back up. She didn't think Lyrae had been willfully bad, but he needed more time to grow and learn. He needed correcting in a way his parents weren't prepared to do. They lavished him with love and adoration, but he needed more than that. He needed to be taught certain things were wrong, he needed responsibility, and training... but it just didn't happen."

"Then another child was born," Artemis pointed out, "Epsilon. Queen Serenity was his Godmother as well, and she sensed that this child could be the balance to Lyrae. She told his parents this, saying that Lyrae should be watched, but that Epsilon would have the gift to calm his brother's darkness. A yin and yang. Epsilon and Lyrae's parents did allow the siblings to be close, but Lyrae was told to be the caretaker to Epsilon. To care for his brother to lead him, and honestly, it should have been the other way around. Epsilon was the one who needed to guide Lyrae, not the other way around."

"Our Queen tried to relay this to their parents but..." Luna sighed, "Queen Serenity had no children of her own, so her friends dismissed her advice, and they were even angered. They didn't want a woman with no children to be telling them what to do, so they limited her visits."

"That's kind of a fair statement," Yusuke interrupted, slurping a bowl of noodles loudly, "No offense, but how did the Queen Serenity know these things about a couple kids?"

"Queen Serenity was very gifted," Luna answered, eyes shining brightly with pride, "She was considered an uniter of planets and universes alike. It was probably partially thanks to the Imperium Silver Crystal, but Queen Serenity could sense the darkness in people's hearts from the time they were born."

"It would be hard to tell your older child that they needed to listen to their younger sibling though," Kuwabara admitted. 

"And I think that's where she struggled," Artemis agreed, "At the time, the Moon Kingdom was still young, and she didn't want to step on her friends' toes by giving them tough advice."

"So naturally, Lyrae became problematic?" Hiei asked despite already knowing the answer.

"Yes. I'm not sure why but their mother came to Queen Serenity, and they had a meeting. After the meeting, Lyrae was taken to a separate star with his father, while the Queen had Epsilon at another star. The brothers were kept apart and allowed only to meet under supervision. Lyrae had always claimed he wanted to rule the kingdom with his brother, sharing his reign," Luna droned on, "and while this never changed, Epsilon began to disagree with Lyrae's methods. Lyrae wanted to build large armies, and travel to other kingdoms to force them into an alliance. He was less concerned with the people of his own stars, and more concerned with other kingdoms listening to what he had to say."

"He apparently also proposed something to Epsilon, that horrified his parents. They sent a message to Queen Serenity, asking for urgent help. When she arrived to assist at the star system, she was barred from entry and learned that her friends had died." Luna deflated as she retold the story. Her Queen had been so sad any time she recalled this tale.

"What do you think he wanted from Epsilon?" Minako asked, but received no answer.

Luna only shook her head, deflating further. She couldn't remember if the Queen had told her now... memories of the kingdom still felt... blurry inside her head. She glanced to Artemis seeing the same distant look in his eyes, that were surely in hers.

Yusuke and Kurama exchanged looks, Yusuke had wisely kept his thoughts to himself when Lyrae came up. Yusuke hadn't mentioned to Kuwabara how lustful Lyrae had acted at hearing Kuwabara's voice. They hadn't bothered mentioning to the girls either, too unsure at the time if they should give that information up. But now... Yusuke wasn't so sure he should keep quiet about his suspicions. Yusuke glanced at Kuwabara's face, and remembered his promise not to keep anything from his friend... he sighed. 

"I think... I have an idea what it was," Yusuke admitted.

Kurama, Hiei, and Genkai looked at Yusuke, all wearing the same face of concern.

Kuwabara looked at Yusuke surprised but expectant, waiting for Yusuke to explain.

"When Lyrae arrived he kept saying Genkai was hiding Epsilon. We thought maybe he was looking to kill this guy, but when he heard Kuwabara's voice from the watch, he went...all...gross," Yusuke tried to explain, cringing at his phrasing.

"Gross?" Rei questioned a brow arched.

"It sounded very much like he was lusting for Epsilon," Kurama answered cutting to the quick.

The stunned looks around the room slowly fell into disgust. Kuwabara's face paled dramatically, and Yusuke reached out clamping a hand down on Kuwabara's shoulder.

"You mean Lyrae... wants to...." Usagi motioned her hands together, "with his brother?!"

"Yes," Hiei answered his eyes watching Kuwabara's stiffened back.

"And he thinks Mr. Kuwabara..." Makoto trailed off and covered her mouth with her hand.

The room had gone silent, and tense, the realization from the information Yusuke provided overwhelming the group. Kuwabara stood up, his bad leg trembling terribly as he quickly rose.

"I need a minute!" Kuwabara blurted quickly, barging past his friends and everyone else in the room. He was embarrassed and his stomach felt sick. With his friends looking at him, as well as the concerned eyes of those that had been his students, Kuwabara felt... ashamed. Ashamed to be associated with whatever this was that might have been happening between Lyrae and Epsilon... who Lyrae thought he was. Why had he wanted his friends to tell him everything?!

He had escaped to another room when he felt a hand clamp down on his wrist.

Jumping Kuwabara looked back, seeing Yusuke had followed him. His brown eyes were swimming with concern, and his mouth set in a grim frown. 

"Whatever you're worried about... whatever you're thinking... don't blame yourself. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. And Lyrae's deal with his brother is not your fault! It's not even that Epsilon kid's fault! Neither you or Epsilon asked for Lyrae to... to be a fucking creep!" Yusuke said, his voice low and vicious.

Kuwabara swallowed hard placing a free hand to his brow, "I'm... I'm increasingly disturbed by all this. And... I'm..." Kuwabara felt his mouth run dry as he ran a hand over his face. Without looking at Yusuke Kuwabara muttered, "I'm starting to worry... I am Epsilon."

"What?!" Yusuke squeezed Kuwabara's wrist harder, his voice edged with concern.

"It sounds crazy! It feels crazy!" Kuwabara burst his eyes closing tight for a moment, "But since I moved here I've been having these dreams. I've dreamed of Epsilon. He looks like me, kind of... there are small differences but the guy is... like a version of me."

"Kuwabara... I'm not sure if I'm following..."

"I don't know! I mean-I know this is crazy. It's just a dream, just a bunch of dreams! But I've heard the name Epsilon! And Serenity... and Luna!" Kuwabara pulled his hand free from Yusuke so he could place both hands against his forehead. He was beginning to feel like a crazy person.

"I think I've even heard the name Lyrae in my dreams... but I can't make out their faces..." Kuwabara whispered despairingly.

Yusuke closed the distance between them both and pulled Kuwabara to him, his hands firmly wrapped around Kuwabara's waist. Kuwabara stumbled, his hands coming down to Yusuke's shoulders to maintain his balance. Yusuke was looking up at Kuwabara, his face filled with a myriad of emotions. Anger, concern, determination... something untouchable and gentle.

"You're not crazy. In the span of a day we learned some cats can talk, some teenage girls can transform into superheroes, and a man fell from outer space! Crazy shit is happening, but you're not crazy! If something is wrong, tell me. I'll believe you, no matter what you tell me. Please! I can't... I can't let you down anymore," Yusuke's voice was filled with concern, and his head dropped as he could no longer look Kuwabara in the eye. A low sound, that could be only be described as a remorseful whine slipped past his lips. 

Kuwabara's hand twitched, yearning to run his fingers through his best friend's hair in comfort.

Yusuke leaned forward and pressed his forehead to Kuwabara's chest, "Whatever is going on I'll help you. I won't let you go through this alone." Yusuke wanted to say so much more. He wanted to promise to protect Kuwabara, to keep him safe. He wanted to promise to fight alongside him, and never leave him behind. That they had a whole future together if Kuwabara wanted. There was so much he wanted to say. He bit his tongue and held on to his best friend, wishing quietly for more.

Kuwabara slid his arms from Yusuke's shoulders to encircle the shorter man. He pulled the man close and held tight, crushing his friend in a fierce hug. Kuwabara stayed quiet letting his anxiety and fears bleed out of him as he pressed his cheek against Yusuke's hair. He focused only on this hug, this moment of being in Yusuke's arms, and clinging to the comfortable feeling between them to ground him away from his fears.

"...We'll get through all this, just like we always do. Lyrae will be just another piece of trash to take out," Yusuke promised his hold tightening.

Kuwabara kept Yusuke folded into his embrace, eyes closed as he let Yusuke's words reassure him. He wanted to just stay here with Yusuke but couldn't find a good enough excuse to stay in his arms.

Sighing hard, Kuwabara pulled away, "Let's... get back. I need... to hear it all."

Yusuke nodded his hand sliding slowly to Kuwabara's hip, and squeezing. He pulled his hand away and rubbed his fingers against his palm. It felt empty in a way Yusuke couldn't explain, now that Kuwabara wasn't beneath it.

Reluctantly the pair returned, both regretting the parting. When they returned, they found the room was still heavy with tension, and Rei had moved to sit with Usagi. Rei had placed her arm around Usagi's shoulder, and Luna was perched in her lap. Usagi had a distraught look in her eyes, and was biting her lip as she watched the two re-enter. Genkai looked at the boys as they made their way to their seats, concern evident in her eyes. Her eyes noted Yusuke's hand at Kuwabara's back, and her expression softened.

Kuwabara muttered an apology about his hasty retreat and sat back down, Usagi reaching out to him and squeezing his hand. Her look was full of understanding, and sympathy. Kuwabara pat her hand and smiled kindly at the girl. 

Luna cleared her throat, her voice apologetic, "Setting aside the Lyrae that is here now, and what his intentions could be... in the past it was widely speculated that he killed his parents in a coup. Queen Serenity had no way of entering the kingdom through legal means and only knew that her friends were dead, and Lyrae had declared war on his brother. Queen Serenity worked hard to try and get back into the Epsilon Lyrae Kingdom, but could not do it on her own. That was when she went to the guardian of the Time Gate-"

"Sailor Pluto!" Minako burst eyes lighting up.

"There are more of you?" Hiei asked, his tone bordering on disgust.

"Yeah, there's a solar system's worth shorty!" Minako snapped back.

Hiei bristled, but Kurama held his hand up and fixed the shorter demon with a look, "Now is not the time to start a fight..."

Hiei's nostrils flared but he settled himself back against a wall and crossed his arms with a frown.

Luna glanced between Minako and Hiei, but pressed forward, "Sailor Pluto provided a way for the Queen to enter the Epsilon Lyrae kingdom undetected. When She arrived, she found that only Epsilon and a few members of his court had survived. She helped him and his remaining members escape...."

"But that just brought the battle to the Moon," Artemis sighed.

"It only gave us an advantage!" Luna insisted, dismissing Artemis' disappointed tone, "Lyrae came to reclaim his brother, but with help from Epsilon and the Silver Crystal, Queen Serenity vanquished Lyrae, and sealed him away in the destruction of a star."

Kurama's brow furrowed, "...Are you telling me she sealed him in a meteorite? In a falling star?"

"There was a meteor shower right before Lyrae showed up!" Genkai interjected.

The groups' voices clambered to speak, all talking over each other in an effort to be heard. 

Luna puffed up and hissed, "Silence! Shouting at each other won't get us anywhere! But to answer the question...yes. Lyrae could not be fully destroyed. He was defeated, and his powers stripped, and she sealed him away. If he's here now... my guess is he's regained his strength and he's come here in search of Epsilon."

"Fuck!" Kuwabara exploded, leaning back in his seat, face frustrated and eyes wide, "Fuck!"

"Hey Cat! Is there anything else?" Yusuke asked, banging a fist on his knee.

Luna exchanged a look with Artemis. The white cat shrugged, and Luna sighed, "We seem to have holes in our memories. It's like when we were looking for Princess Serenity, parts of our memories seemed to be... locked away."

"Well, how do you remove those locks?" Kurama asked, his own tone frustrated.

"...Perhaps we need some sort of awakening. When Usagi was revealed to be our Princess our memories returned. Perhaps... something like that needs to happen?" Artemis suggested.

"So...we maybe need to find Epsilon?" Usagi suggested.

Kuwabara and Yusuke exchanged a nervous glance.

"Okay, what about you little cat?" Yusuke asked pointing a finger at Diana, "What do you know about this kingdom?"

Diana puffed up, looking eager to share what she knew, "That the Kingdom exists!"

There was a silence before Kuwabara let out a nervous little chuckle. Genkai too smiled and tucked a hand over her face at the small kitten. With her small proclamation, it seemed that she had broken the tension, at least a little.

"Uhh... anything else?" Yusuke asked, a smile creeping on his face.

Diana opened her mouth to speak, but Rei suddenly stood up, "Someone's here!"

Hiei's face tensed, and he turned around in the room, his sword in hand, and sheath tossed aside. "Lyrae!" He growled leaping forward, racing towards the front door.

Now everyone was moving, all standing up in a hurried frenzy. Yusuke and Usagi both reached for Kuwabara, taking protective stances at his side. Kurama was sprinting outside, with Rei, Minako, and Makoto following after.

Genkai was the only one moving at an unhurried pace, grumbling as she got up.

"...Blasted old knees! It's not him!" Genkai sighed, and waved her hands at Usagi, Kuwabara, and Yusuke, "It's not him. You can all relax. Come on."

Genkai led the remaining three people outside, where the others had all convened. Hiei was at the front, his sword held loosely in his grip. Kurama was walking down the front steps, headed slowly towards their guest, while Minako, Rei, and Makoto held back. They were alert but made no movement towards the woman outside.

"Botan!" Kuwabara called out once he recognized the girl standing solemnly outside.

Botan was decked out in her normal attire, a pink kimono, and held her oar in her hand. Her eyes were tired and red, and she seemed... turned down. Like all of her had been painted into a duller shade and made up a poor copy of the normally bubbly girl. She offered a frail smile, and with a voice thick with emotion spoke, "Guys... we need to talk.:

She closed her eyes as her voice shook and cracked. Taking in a shuddering breath she whispered, "...It's about Koenma."

 


 

End of chapter 12

Chapter Text

Usagi watched with fascination as the blue-haired woman was embraced by her friends. They had told them earlier that the woman was death, but looking at this fragile woman now…

How could someone so bright be a farrier of death?

Quietly, the woman called Botan, was taken inside Kurama keeping a firm arm around her shoulders. Botan kept her head down, and her chin trembled as her watery eyes blinked rapidly. It looked as if she was trying to keep calm, and using all her willpower to do so. With gentle care she was led inside to sit down, her friends surrounding her, but not crowding.

Usagi hung back with her friends, Rei’s hand gently falling to her shoulder. A quick glance to her friends let her know that they were all watching the scene with a wondering awe. Usagi darted her eyes back forward and watched as with surprisingly soft movements, Genkai took Botan’s hands.

The woman burst into tears in response.


“Koenma is…” Botan stuttered, her words choked with her tears, “Koenma is in a terrible state!”

Kuwabara looked to Yusuke, who reached down and squeezed Kuwabara’s wrist. The two men shared a look and, then Kuwabara subtly nodded before looking back towards their distressed friend.

“Please tell us,” Genkai gently spoke, her voice cutting through Botan’s sobs.

"Koenma's... Koenma's injury... " Botan stuttered, her voice frail and frazzled, "It could affect everyone!"

Patiently, soothingly, Genkai spoke again, "Explain it to us Botan... from the beginning. We're listening."

Botan pressed the sleeve of her Kimono against her face for a moment, before taking in a shaking rattling breath, “Inside Koenma’s body is an infinite Universe… full of information specifically for the three realms. Human, Demon, and Spirit world. This information isn’t for him to have constant access to, it’s merely for him to keep within him and maintain. He's... he's a vessel for the makeup of all three worlds.”

Botan suddenly paused her eyes scanning over Rei, Minako, Makoto, and finally Usagi. Recognition passed in her eyes, and she held Usagi’s gaze a moment. She tilted her face towards Genkai, whispering, “I’m talking about… highly sensitive information. Should I…?”

Genkai pat Botan’s hand, “They can be trusted, it’s alright. Continue.”

Botan dabbed at her wet face again, and cleared her throat, “Koenma’s not in charge just because of he was born into it… and then at the same time, he is.” Botan pressed her hands to her forehead, her brow crinkling as she struggled to find words to explain, “Koenma’s line was specifically placed to rule. Koenma is indeed a Spirit, a God, whatever you want to label him, but his family line was placed here by something bigger.”

“By what?” Hiei interrupted his gaze intensely set on Botan.

“What put Koenma’s family line in charge? Who has a higher position than Koenma? Isn’t he the boss?” Yusuke spit question after, question, his eyes bulging as she spoke.

“The Universe is infinite, the mysteries of it all isn’t meant for anyone to know. Not Spirit, Demon, or human…” Botan continued, shaking her head at Yusuke’s shock, “Whoever put Koenma’s line in charge, he, she, they-it-told the very first king of Spirit World that they were a vessel. A vessel for the Universe to maintain its balance and strive in. If that information is lost or broken, the Universe will unwind. It can’t exist without Koenma’s line.”

“So when Koenma’s head split open…” Kurama murmured.

“That glowing white blood…” Yusuke whispered.

"That was the knowledge of this Universe," Botan whispered, "If he dies that information will be lost, and all three realms with disappear, and nothing will exist. It'll all just be... gone."

As the news settled in, the girls began to understand, and let out sharp gasps.

“If this Koenma dies… then this world-!?” Makoto gasped, leaning forward, her face pale.

A heavy silence filled the room as the group thought of their entire world unraveling. Usagi closed her eyes tight. With their new enemies attacking the citizens for their dream mirrors, with Kuwabara under threat of this Lyrae character… and now the world-the entire universe was in danger of being undone. It was too much!

“I feel sick!” Usagi blurted.

Minako was keeping uncharacteristically quiet, and she gripped Usagi’s arm painfully tight.

“No,” Botan whispered, her voice pained, “No… the world… is safe. It won’t come undone. Even if Koenma’s father is imprisoned, as long as one of them is alive… the world is safe.”

Rei growled, taking a bold step forward, “Why would you say all that terrible stuff if the world was fine?! You worked everybody up-”

Yusuke rounded on Rei, eyes flashing dangerously, “You shut up!”

“Yusuke-” Kuwabara began to reprimand, but Yusuke continued to shout, squaring up against the short-tempered priestess.

“Our friend is hurt, and Botan must have a lot of say. So don’t you fucking judge her, or what she has to say! Even I can’t begin to understand all they’ve been through! So if you dare raise your voice to her again-”

The flat side of a sword was pressed against Yusuke’s chest.

In surprise, both Rei and Yusuke looked down at Hiei who was glaring sternly up at Yusuke, “Mind your temper. She is a child, and you are no longer one. You don’t have an excuse to lose your temper like this.”

Hiei’s sword moved to touch gently against Rei’s body, “And as for you, no matter how harshly put, Yusuke has a point. You know our story, our background, but know nothing of the hardships we have all undergone. You regard yourself a warrior? A protector? Then show some patience, and mind your temper, and try to have a little understanding.”

Rei’s face flushed red as she felt thoroughly chastised. With a tiny dip of her head, she muttered a soft apology and stepped back. Hiei sheathed his sword in one fluid motion, and turned back to Botan, ignoring everyone’s surprised looks. They had hardly ever seen Hiei defend anyone, and even then it was only his friends. His actions had been shocking, and even Hiei had no explanation for them.

The room was tense, and Botan sniffled as a fresh wave of tears silently trickled down her face. “I’m sorry,” She whispered in a small voice, “The world is still in danger. It surely won’t unravel if Koenma passes, but his father would have to be reinstated as the leader of Spirit World. You... strangers may not know Koenma's father, but trust me when I say, we don't want Koenma back in rule! And worse… if Koenma dies his existence is just gone. Poof! Everyone who knows him, everyone who has ever met him will have no memories of him. His life will be erased as if it never mattered!”

Her voice cracked and she flew her arms up. With desperate eyes, she turned towards her friends,”All the lives he’s touched, all the things he has changed will be snatched from our heads and disappear with his death. We will not remember each other! We’ll go back to the people we were before his involvement! Our past actions won't change, but the memories of our involvement with them will just be gone!”

The former spirit detectives sucked in a sharp breath through their teeth.

Kuwabara looked at Yusuke, his eyes pained, “We won’t be friends!”

“And if Enma is in charge he’ll send his goons after me… and I won’t remember that I’m Mazoku,” Yusuke growled.

“He’ll be after all of us,” Hiei agreed, his lips curling into a snarl.

“Demon world will fall into chaos. It’ll go back to the way it was before Yusuke changed it,” Kurama whispered, his hand cupping his chin.

"Will it?" Yusuke asked eyes concerned, "Isn't that a past action? Won't it stay the same?"

"If you don't remember ever being a spirit detective or anything you experience, they too will forget," Kurama reasoned, though he too seemed uncertain. "If we all forget one another, wouldn't the tournament system fall to the wayside?"

“What is his condition now?” Genkai asked, voice hard and firm, cutting through any further conversation.

“He has been put in an induced coma, and we have our best healer working around the clock to heal his head,” Botan whispered. "But even still blood had poured from his head. We saw it. It glowed and evaporated. We have no idea if healing him will resolve our problem or if that information is just gone. All we know is if he isn't returned to his former state..." Botan cut herself off, her voice shaking terribly. She opened her mouth to continue, but it seemed she could go no further.

No one needed her to continue speaking. They all knew that Koenma's existence was an unsure thing. The thought was terrifying.

Botan closed her eyes a moment, before springing like a wound trap. Her hands seized the front of Genkai’s robes, and she looked desperately at the older woman, “Please! I know you are all facing something…  something terrible! But I need you! I need your spirit wave! We have the best working on him, but your spirit wave! It could mean all the difference for his condition!”

Genkai held the desperate woman by her shoulders and looked up at Yusuke. The two stared at another for a moment, and then Genkai smoothed Botan’s hair away from her distraught face, “I will come. I would hate to forget my star pupil… no matter how much of a dimwit he is.”

She got up, gently prying Botan’s hands from her robes. She looked around the room, quietly piercing the group with her gaze, “I will go and help Koenma. Before he was injured he said he knew something about Lyrae. Perhaps a weakness. In the meantime… you are all out of harmony!” She pointed an accusing finger at them all, her face set in a stern frown, “If you really want to defend against this new threat If you want to keep yourselves and Kuwabara safe… I suggest trying to work together.”

Genkai tugged at Botan’s arm, the woman standing slowly to her feet, her relief so great it made her weak. Genkai turned her eyes to Rei, “I’ve always trusted you Rei. And I trust you with this, get everyone working together. Train together… and prepare. We don’t know when Lyrae will strike, but he will. We can be sure of that. Use what precious time you have and prepare!” Genkai turned to give Yusuke a sharp look, "That goes double for you Yusuke! You are my protege, and like a son to me. Get yourselves in sync with these girls!"

“Yes, Master Genkai!” Rei promised, bowing at the waist.

“We’ve got things here, just go help that toddler,” Yusuke said flashing Genkai a brief smile.

Genkai shared a tense smile with Yusuke and nodded to the girls as she walked past, and then she and Botan quietly exited the shrine.

With uncertainty, the two groups looked at each other, frowning and unsure of the tenuous relationship they had forged. Kuwabara and Usagi glanced at each other, the unease of their groups palpable. Kuwabara looked back at Diana, Usagi’s eyes following. Usagi nodded to Kuwabara, and approached Diana, drawing the attention of the room.

“Diana… can you tell us of the Epsilon Lyrae kingdom in your time?”

 


 

From what must have been the tallest building in the city, Lyrae stared coldly at the world below. This world was vast, larger than his kingdoms, and larger than the moon kingdom. He had recognized it as Earth, a blue planet with a smattering of colors. A waste of a place with weak-willed humans swarming on its surface. Insects infested the planet, insects he could crush.

It was pathetic to see Earth thriving so much… when his kingdoms had perished.

He had heard his brother’s voice days ago. Saying he was at a place called Tokyo. He had thought he’d be able to find it with ease, but days of searching had proved him wrong. The world was too different and too big.

How long had he been sleeping sealed in that cold unfeeling rock?

“No matter,” Lyrae murmured, “I will twist this world until it is my own. It will be my new kingdom, and once I have Epsilon it will be perfect. Perfect.”

A frightened squeak reminded him of his guest.

Dangling from his hand was a trembling man. He dangled in the open air, his legs kicking, and his eyes wide with fright.

“Please,” the man whispered, clutching the hand that held his throat, “PLease. I-I have children! I beg you!”

Lyrae regarded him with a cold stare, “You say this is not Tokyo?”

“No!” The man cried, a gust of wind blowing off his hat, “No it’s further east! E-East! You have to go… I… I don’t know! Like fifty more miles!”

Lyrae sighed, “How annoying. Traveling so far in my eagerness… how pathetic I am.”

He turned his face skywards, and sighed heavily, “Epsilon. My sweet baby brother. Soon we will be reunited. Nothing will keep us apart again. Not the insects of this world. Not a foolish knight. Not the heavens themselves will part us! You and I are meant to be together. I will be with you… very soon.”

And with ease, he pushed the man further from himself and let go. The man screamed, his eyes wide in terror as he was dropped from an impossible height. His scream echoed in the air, and he became a blur. Lyrae watched with a smile as he became a red stain on the ground, and the sounds of screams rose up from the streets. He laughed at the chaos below, before letting out a relieved sigh.

“That felt good,” Lyrae purred, the tension bleeding from his shoulders.

All his mistakes had caused him to become quite irritable. Taking his stress out on the people of this world brought him comfort. There suffering would have to do until he was reunited with his brother.

“Now… to the east he said…”

 


 

The group had settled with each other, all surrounding the coffee table that Diana had perched herself on. Luna and Artemis sat on either side of her, quietly encouraging their future child to speak.

Diana puffed up her chest, but her ears tilted back as she admitted, “I don’t know if I know enough. But the Epsilon Lyrae kingdom exists in my time. Their leader is even close friends with the Queen and visits regularly. He is easily recognizable by his cloak colored like a setting sun!”

“How long have they ruled their kingdom?” Kuwabara asked, a nervous flutter in his stomach.

“Not as long as the Queen, but for a little over two hundred years,” Diana answered.

“Two hundred years?!” Yusuke gasped, his eyebrows rising high into his hairline.

“Queen Serenity’s power over the millennium crystal has granted elongated lives,” Diana said with an important look, “And from my understanding, this has extended to her allies. But, if I am recalling my history correctly, those who ruled over Epsilon Lyrae also had a longer lifespan.”

"That sounds about right," Artemis agreed, trying to remember his past further.

“Who is Epsilon? Have you seen his face?” Minako prodded.

“Is Lyrae right? Is it Mr. Kuwabara?” Usagi added, her face serious.

Kuwabara’s lips tightened, and he felt his body tense with stress. Yusuke’s hand fell on his upper thigh, and Kuwabara felt a little bit of calm return to him. He moved to take Yusuke’s hand, but stopped, placing it firmly on the floor. His ears burned with embarrassment, and with some difficulty, he tried to return his full attention to Diana.

“I admit I have only seen him once. When I was born mama let him lift me into his arms. He was very warm and bright… but I can’t remember his face,” Diana admitted.

Hiei sighed irritably but made no remark.

“What else, is there more?” Kurama persisted.

“He has a weapon. It’s not like the crystal, but it can change things. It doesn’t just destroy, it helps bring life. It’s… really powerful. And though he rules Epsilon Lyrae he claims it is under the Queen’s jurisdiction and follows her rules. His weapon has done a great many things, and can free… free…” Diana got up her body fluffing as she tried to remember.

“Free the weight of people’s despair!” the kitten finally declared.

“The weight of despair?” Makoto echoed, blinking at the words.

“Diana, what does that mean?” Luna asked, nuzzling her face against the kitten’s cheek.

“I don’t know. It’s what you’ve told me. The you in Neo-Tokyo!” Diana answered leaning fully into Luna’s body.

“The weight of despair…” Kurama said again, repeating the words as his eyes darted with thought.

“What about Lyrae? Is he in your time?” Yusuke asked.

“No. And I’ve never heard his mention until now,” Diana answered, settling close to Luna, “The kingdom of Epsilon Lyrae needed lots of repairs. It was in shambles after the fall, but Epsilon and his court rebuilt it.”

“Court?” Usagi asked.

Diana nodded, “There are a group of people who protect Epsilon and always accompany him. His royal adviser, his personal knight, the commander of his armies, and his teacher. They are uniquely powerful as well and advise Epsilon, as well as Queen Serenity. Together with Epsilon, they serve as extra protection for Neo-Tokyo and Earth. Epsilon’s weapon can help guide and warn him of danger.”

"Do you remember what this weapon is?" Makoto asked.

Diana tilted her head down, her tail swishing. She let out an irritated puff of air, "It's really long. I think... a staff? Maybe a spear... but it's really strong and does wondrous things!"

“Whatever this weapon is, it sounds like it’d be pretty fucking useful!” Yusuke sighed, “If we had it, if we knew where it was…”

“Maybe it would help against Lyrae?” Usagi supplied looking at Yusuke.

He nodded, letting out a sigh, his shoulders sagging.

"Fat good it does us!" Yusuke snorted, "For all we know, this weapon only exists in the future. Or it's something only Epsilon knows about!" Yusuke made sure to keep his eyes away from Kuwabara. It felt that if he looked at him, Yusuke would reveal Kuwabara's concerns over his dreams. 

“Perhaps… we can find it…” Rei whispered, biting on her lower lip, "There's a possibility this weapon exists. If Lyrae claimes Epsilon is here, then perhaps his weapon exists inside him. Like how the silver crystal was inside Usagi!"

“How do we find it?” Minako moaned, “Diana doesn’t know what it is, we’re not sure who Epsilon is, or if he really is even here, and now there’s some court of his! A court made up of really powerful people?! They could be a help to us too, but who knows where they are! It’s like we’re looking for several needles in a million haystacks!”

The group was silent for a long moment, before Rei spoke again, “I think we can find it. And some answers to our questions!”

“How?” Usagi asked, drawing out the question in a long high pitched whine.

Rei let out an annoyed growl, and slammed her palm on the table, “Look! We all saw his dream mirror!” She pointed a finger at Kuwabara, who jerked back in response.

“It had chains around it!” Rei continued, “That means something!”

“Like what?” Minako pressed, her tone growing agitated.

Kuwabara frowned, and folded his hands in his lap, “I… Look when I was asleep I was having this dream. In it… there was this winged horse.”

“Pegasus?”

The name was murmured in a whispered hush from all the girls. All eyes turned to Kuwabara, and Luna jumped down to settle in his lap. It seemed, that even a magical cat, could sense when Kuwabara needed a little comfort. Easing his hand over her dark fur, and avoiding the eyes staring at him, Kuwabara muttered, “Yeah. He was there. He said someone was trying to help me remember something.”

“Who?” Hiei demanded, his voice a mix of anger and protective concern.

“A woman,” Kuwabara muttered, concentrating on coaxing a purr out of Luna, “She wants me to remember something. And… a few times I’ve been… addressed as Epsilon in my dreams…”

Yusuke tensed next to Kuwabara, and Kurama whispered Kuwabara’s name with tense concern.

Kuwabara closed his eyes, sighing heavily, and tried to will himself to look up. Luna pressed her body against Kuwabara and rose on her hind legs so she could press her cheek against Kuwabara’s cheek. She let out a low rumbly purr and whispered, “It’s alright. It’s alright… we’ll all here to help you.”

Kuwabara sighed, and finally looked up, inwardly flinching against the eyes focused on him. They were so concerned. He knew they meant well, but Kuwabara was so sick of having people concerned about him. He was sick of himself for causing people to be concerned. If only he was stronger. His leg throbbed with a sudden pain, and he squeezed it as bitterness welled up in the back of his throat.

"Lyrae could be right. If my dreams are correct..." Kuwabara sighed, "And they normally are because that's when I have my strongest visions... then I probably am this stupid Epsilon guy. Or I was in my past. But I really don't remember!"

"That's absurd!" Hiei argued, folding his arms at his waist, "How long have you been having these dreams?"

"Since I got to Tokyo," Kuwabara mumbled, "Maybe even a little longer. I think I've heard a woman's voice asking me to remember before I ever came here. But since arriving... the dreams are really strong. And I see more now."

"Why have you never mentioned this before?" Kurama asked, keeping his tone even, "Your dreams have always served a purpose. Why not say anything about it?"

Feeling a bit childish, Kuwabara could only shrug his shoulders, having no answer to give.

"It's not like we can say anything," Yusuke grumbled, "I mean-why would Kuwabara tell us? The past year we've been avoiding him and acting like a bunch of idiots!"

Hiei and Kurama didn't argue with Yusuke's point, and Kuwabara smiled softly at Yusuke, appreciating his words.

Glancing back to the girls, Kuwabara continued, "But... I have been having dreams. I can't confirm or deny if I'm this Epsilon character."

Rei met his eyes, and he was startled at the intensity of her look. There seemed to be a fire brewing behind her eyes.

“You need to remember something. That's what your dreams are telling us; that's why there are chains on your dream mirror! You must remember! If you do there might be a powerful weapon we can find! It could be what we need to defeat Lyrae, or even find him!” Rei declared firmly. She had risen to her feet, and pressed her palms flat on the table. She was now bent over, and leaning closer to Kuwabara, fixing him with her dark gaze.

“The answer is simple!” Rei continued ignoring the confused and stunned looks she was getting, “You need to meditate! I always do so when danger is near to try and help sense the correct path I need to take. You’re a psychic, like me! Mediate with me by my fires! If I can invoke a vision-so can you!”

“That sounds crazy!” Yusuke scoffed.

“What else would you have us do?” Rei snapped but kept her eyes firmly fixed with Kuwabara’s.

“It has worked before,” Minako chided, turning to look at Yusuke. “Countless times Rei has used her visions to help us figure things out! She doesn’t always see things clearly, but if Kuwabara is as powerful as that Genkai woman says he is…”

“…It might work,” Kurama concluded quietly.

Kuwabara glanced anxiously at Kurama, who placed a hand on his shoulder, “I can prepare a tea for you Kuwabara. It will give you strength, and enhance your abilities.”

“I’ve meditated before, and never had visions!” Kuwabara protested.

“I bet you’ve never had direction before!” Rei countered, “I will guide you through the process! I can help you, I can open you up!”

“I don’t want to remember if I’m this Epsilon guy!” Kuwabara exploded, his face flushed red with frustration, “I don’t want to know if Lyrae and him had some fucked up relationship, or God knows what else!” Kuwabara’s hands moved wildly and his face crumpled with disgust. Placing his hands over his eyes he muttered, “I don’t know if I can stomach it.”

Yusuke placed a hand on Kuwabara’s back and looked at everyone with a worried face. He knew Rei’s idea was all they could try, but he couldn’t really blame Kuwabara for not wanting to know anything further.

Usagi’s eyes were filled with understanding, and tentatively she reached out, tugging one of Kuwabara’s hands away from his face, and lacing his fingers with her own.

“I know what you’re going through. To quote you… it’s not fair. It's really not! Remembering pains of the past… it’s hard. But… but I gained so much from learning about my past!” Usagi insisted, her hand squeezing Kuwabara’s. “I remembered sad times… like dying and my friends having to fight those we called allies. I can still see Mamoru’s outstretched hand, and then his eyes going dark when I close my eyes. And it’s terrible… but there’s such small things- precious things I remembered too. I remember laying in the white sands of my kingdom, listening to a soft voice whisper me stories. I remember holding Luna when she was much smaller, and kissing her head until she purred. I remember gazing at a blue planet that I would eventually sneak off too, and locking eyes with my prince… and falling in love. And with all the terrible sadness, there are hundreds of small little things I am so thankful to remember!”

She smiled at Kuwabara, eyes shining with tears, “I won’t lie and say you’ll like everything about your past self, but I promise there will be something worth remembering. I just know it.”

The room had gone silent and stared at Usagi in a quiet reverence. Not even Hiei could say he hadn’t been touched by Usagi’s powerful declaration. Kuwabara had his eyes locked with hers, but he could not hold her gaze.

Dropping his chin into his chest, Kuwabara muttered, “I… I really need to think about it. I know there is not much time… and I’m risking my own stupid hide by disagreeing, but I just can’t make this decision yet.”

Kuwabara pulled his hand away and looked away from everyone, too ashamed to look at their disappointed faces.

“Well… your choice can’t be easy” Minako sighed, trying to be understanding.

“The meditation might not even work,” Yusuke said looking to Rei.

Rei sighed, “But it’s worth a shot, it might be the only shot we have.”

Kurama rubbed Kuwabara’s back, “Surely we can spare… an hour. Just an hour. Kuwabara can you think about it for an hour?”

Kuwabara sighed and raked his fingers through his curls, “Yes. Just let me think about it a little while. I know what... what answer I should make. I know... I just. I just need some time.”

Yusuke pat Kuwabara’s arm once, before getting to his feet. He gestured towards the door, glancing at the girls, “In the meantime I think we should take Genkai’s advice.”

“Advice?” Makoto echoed, tilting her head.

“Yeah. Try to get in harmony and shit. So let’s get outside…” Yusuke turned his head side to side, popping the bones in his neck, “And see what you girls can do.”

 


 

end of chapter 13

Chapter Text

Hiei was the first to remark on Yusuke’s suggestion, “This is a terrible idea.”

“What? No, it’s not!” Yusuke protested gesturing for everyone to get up. “We’ve got to use what time we got and see what each other can do! So let’s get our asses outside, and get to brawlin’!”

“A fist fight won’t solve everything!” Hiei grumbled, his voice exasperated.

“It’s not going to solve everything, but it’ll give us a good idea what these girls can do!” Yusuke threw up his hands, “I know what I can do, I know what you can do, I know what Kurama and Kuwabara can do-but I don’t know jack shit about these girls! So we’re gonna get outside and see how these kids fight!”

"We're not kids!" Minako protested. Yusuke rolled his head to look at her and gave her the most judgemental stare he could muster. He snorted, and waved at her, dismissing her protest before turning back to Kurama and Hiei. Minako's face flushed red and she bit her lip so as not to start shouting at Yusuke, and prove his point.

Kurama let out a frustrated sigh at Yusuke’s insistent proclamation but did not make any sounds of protest. His face showed disapproval, but in the wheels were turning behind Kurama's eyes. Hiei rolled his eyes and turned away from Yusuke, his impatience evident on his face. "I'm certain this will help us!" Yusuke pressed casting a serious pleading look around the room. There was a tense pause in the air, a moment of awkward uncertainty.

Minako was the first to her feet.

“Yeah okay.”

“Minako!” Several girls hissed.

“Look,” Minako sighed hands on her hips, “I really… don’t envy Mr. Kuwabara’s choice here. Besides Rei’s mediation’s being boring-”

“Hey!” Rei snapped, but Minako waved her off.

“Besides that, like Usagi said this is a serious thing to have to remember. And it might not even work… but what we do know is that there’s some jerk coming this way and he’s strong. We should see what each other has got! And then we can strategize our best line of defense!”

“Yes! Yes! Now we’re talking!” Yusuke encouraged waving towards the group to follow him the back porch.

Still a little uncertain, the rest of the group made to follow. Only Usagi, Kuwabara, and the felines remained behind. Kuwabara had his hands folded in his lap, and his head hung low, the weight of his decision was bearing down heavily on his mind. Usagi moved closer to Kuwabara bumping her shoulder against his in silent support. Kuwabara could not lift his head, feeling ashamed at his inability to come to a quick decision.

Before fully exiting the room Rei met Usagi’s eyes and the two girls shared a private look. Rei glanced at Kuwabara, a flash of pity flickering in her dark eyes and quietly left the two alone.

“Some man I am!” Kuwabara muttered when he was alone with Usagi, “Too afraid to make the right decision! The obvious, and only decision!”

“What does being a man have to do with making a hard decision?” Usagi asked quirking an eyebrow up.

Kuwabara glanced at Usagi, before smiling softly and shaking his head a little. He had no answer to give her to explain the shame he felt about being so terrified. Especially with a much younger girl trying to encourage him to do something, she herself had done. This girl and her friends... they were much stronger than he had ever been at her age.

Usagi puffed up her cheeks, her eyes shining with defiance. She wasn't going to let Kuwabara belittle himself. "The only one here who seems to think you're being a coward is you! You've got a tough choice here! If I could go back to being a normal teenager... I would have done it in a heartbeat!" A wistful look crossed Usagi's face, "There had been times... times when I was just Usagi. Not a princess... not a soldier... just me. And I loved those times... but... but what can you do when something bigger than all of us falls on your shoulders? You're making a hard decision."

“Kuwabara, no one is making light of the choice you have to make. Recalling your memories… especially ones like these... It’s not easy. We understand. When Artemis and I had to help the girls recall their past… well, to be frank, we felt awful about doing it!” Luna soothed, gently reaching out to tap her paw against Kuwabara’s nose.

“That’s right!” Artemis agreed, “Knowingly going into something that you know is going to be rough is hard. And it was hard giving the girls memories that we knew would change their lives. It’d be easier if this was a physical trial, but you’re dealing with an emotional dilemma. That’s very difficult! I don’t think there’s any shame in taking your time to decide what you should do. Remembering could do more harm than good. Whatever choice you make, we’ll abide by it.”

“It would… remembering could be more of a benefit. I know I shouldn’t be hesitating…” Kuwabara leaned over the coffee table propping his elbows up and digging his hands into his curls, “If I can remember... if I'm for sure this... Epsilon, I could find this weapon and we could stop Lyrae-who is clearly a danger to this world and me!!" Kuwabara threw up his hands in trepidation and raked his fingers over his curls. He grit his teeth and continued bitterly, "I’m not helping anyone by not making the obvious choice but… But when I think about…” Kuwabara closed his eyes, “…when I think about the things I could remember it turns my stomach.”

Usagi placed an arm around Kuwabara’s shoulder, her eyes swimming with sympathy and understanding. She said nothing, knowing there was nothing to say about his confession. Everything had already been said, Kuwabara knew what he needed to do... he was just scared. Recalling her death, and Mamoru's death had been one of the most painful things Usagi had ever experienced. There were no words of encouragement to make in regards to the painful memories he'd have to recall. With a sigh, she squeezed Kuwabara's shoulder wishing she could do more.

For now, she stuck close with Kuwabara, silently hoping she was bringing him a least a little bit of comfort.

Outside, Yusuke had dragged Kurama and Hiei off so that they could be separate from the girls. Yusuke had a smug, sure of himself sort of look plastered on his face while Kurama and Hiei eyed their friend, unsure of his plan. Rei and Makoto were in similar states, following Minako as she stood adjacent from Yusuke.

“Okay!” Yusuke crowed, smacking his fist into his palm, “I can tell that you girls have some sort of power now, but it’s nothing like what we got. But from what you told us you girls can transform. So…do that.”

“…Right now?” Makoto asked, folding her arms.

“Yes!” Yusuke sighed, a grin creeping on his face. “Let’s not go through this again, we need to get in sync! Let’s see what you can do! I want to see if you like... power up or something!”

The girls exchanged looks with each other, Minako nodding reassuringly at her taller friends as they looked at her. Minako stepped forward, the boys’ attention immediately shifting to her. Minako reached inside her jacket pocket and pulled forth a small object.

“A pen?” Hiei guessed as the blonde began to move the object in front of her.

“A little big for that,” Kurama commented back, not fully paying attention to Minako’s motions.

“Venus Crystal Power!”

A blast of golden orange light, reminiscent of Kuwabara’s aura flooded their vision. All three young men let out startled cries as they were blinded by a sudden power surge. In a moment the light was gone and the group was left blinking and staring at a girl before them. She was decked out in a sailor suit like the girls had described, and an orange aura radiated off her body.

“Wow,” Yusuke gasped, eagerness tinting his voice, “You’re much stronger now! Much, much, much stronger!”

Kurama was walking forward, blinking as he looked at the transformed girl before him, “I’m amazed. There’s… there’s some sort of energy shielding your face. If I didn’t know it was you I don’t think I could recognize you!”

“Ami has a theory that when we transform, the process does something with our energy to help us be unrecognizable to those who don’t know us,” Rei said, her voice filled with pride.

“It’s amazing!” Kurama proclaimed, unable to hide his astonishment as he circled Minako.

“Ami’s theory or me?” Minako asked putting a gloved hand to her chest, “Because we’re both pretty great… but I’m a real work of art!”

Makoto and Rei shook their heads, while Kurama chuckled at Minako’s flirty comment.

“You said you had code names right? What do you call yourself?” Hiei asked, he and Yusuke now approaching to examine Minako’s new look as well.

“It’s not really a code name… It's... it's who I am now...” Minako said, her voice uncertain.

“It’s really not,” Rei agreed, nodding at the blond reassuringly, “She’s not just called Sailor Venus, it’s not a code name. She’s now actually someone else... she's Sailor Venus, the warrior of Venus, planet of love. She can now do things, Minako could not have done. Our forms now are... it's more like we're multiple facets. We're not some girl running in costumes playing pretend when we transform we are all someone else. We're not super powered girls until we change... our power is when we... become these old selves.”

Yusuke’s upper lip curled and it looked like was suppressing a bad comment, but Kurama was nodded with Rei in understanding.

"Old selves?" Hiei asked, trying to seem uninterested.

"Just like Usagi... we have past lives too," Minako said, "And being a sailor scout, was part of that past. We're... different now."

“She’s right,” Kurama breathed, eyes lit up with fascination, “Before we could barely pick up on her power but now… it’s completely been pushed forward! If I didn’t see it for myself I would not be able to tie Minako with this girl before us now!”

“That’s… true,” Hiei begrudgingly admitted, the words being pulled from his mouth with great reluctance. “This… transformation is a good way to hide in plain sight if you need your identity and true strength kept a secret.”

“Which we do,” Rei supplied, a snide tone to her voice.

Hiei shot her a glare, which she met steadily.

Yusuke was grinning, his excited energy radiating off his body, “Okay! Okay! Nice! You two!” Yusuke pointed his fingers at Makoto and Rei, “You’re next! Let’s get you all transformed, and I want to see what you’ve got!”

 


 

Yukina watched anxiously as Keiko looked over Shizuru. She had called Keiko early in the morning, and after a brief explanation, Keiko had come over to the shrine to offer Yukina some aid. Together, both women worked on getting Shizuru’s fever down. Keiko had brought some pharmaceutical medicine and was adding it to Yukina’s natural supplements. The pair of girls washed Shizuru's feverish face, cleaned her bedroll, and doted on Shizuru with care. Keiko patiently answered all of Yukina’s questions in care, and while Keiko explained the uses of the modern medicines Yukina explained the uses of her herbs.

“I didn’t know your abilities only extended to wounds,” Keiko whispered, keeping her eyes on the thermometer in Shizuru's mouth.

“Injuries have always been my specialty, but disease is not common among my kind. Illness is not caused by bacteria, or stress, or something like that for demons. The wrong type of energy, or overextending our energy is really the only way we could actually get weak enough to get ill. Understanding how to treat disease, or how to tell what to use is... difficult. It’s something I’m working on… but I was at a loss for what to do for Shizuru. Genkai’s herbal medicines have always worked before,” Yukina murmured back, brushing some of Shizuru’s sweaty hair from her brow.

Keiko pulled the thermometer from Shizuru's lips and smiled, "Her fever's gone down."

"Thank goodness!" Yukina exclaimed a hand pressed to her chest in relief.

“Genkai’s medicine is good, but modern medicine has its merits too!” Keiko explained, tucking the sheet up around Shizuru. Sitting back Keiko smiled at Yukina, “I think the worst is over. We just have to keep this fever down.”

Yukina nodded letting out a shuddering sigh. After a quiet moment of stillness, Keiko shifted and draped her arm around Yukina’s shoulders, “…Any word from the boys? Botan? Anyone?”

Yukina shook her head, her throat growing tight.

Keiko’s hand squeezed Yukina’s shoulder painfully tight, “They’ll be alright,” Keiko whispered. Her voice was soft and uncertain. It sounded like she was trying to convince herself as she spoke, “They’ll be alright. Yusuke’s too stubborn to let this guy take Kuwabara away. The idiot’s in love with him.”

Yukina blinked, startled from Keiko’s words, “What?”

Keiko smiled at the ice maiden’s shocked face, “Yusuke. He’s in love with Kuwabara. Took him forever to figure it out. But he always does things slowly.”

Yukina’s mouth was open, and for a moment she thought she would disagree with Keiko’s claim. But nothing came out. Yusuke and Kuwabara. Their names felt right sitting next to each other. In all her time with her friends, she never really thought of those two as separate people anymore. There was Hiei. Kurama. And then there was Yusuke and Kuwabara. They were always paired together in her mind, and they fit perfectly in that space.

She closed her mouth, thinking of the way those two smiled at each other, and a sudden… joy warmed her chest.

“They would… be good for each other.”

Keiko let out a soft sound of agreement, a gentle smile on her face. For a moment the pair sat in that comfortable moment of realizing their friends could be, should be, (would be?) more.

“Does… Kazuma know?” Yukina finally asked.

Keiko let out a frustrated growl at Yukina’s innocent question, “NO! Because Yusuke keeps dragging his damn feet!”

“I wonder if Kazuma feels the same?” Yukina muttered, frowning as she tried to search her memories for clues.

“You don’t know?” Keiko asked shifting to look at Yukina. Her voice was laced with disappointment and concern.

“No, no! He’s never told me… I mean…” Yukina mumbled flustered, “When we talked about… us not working out he said he liked someone… but we mostly talked about how I liked…” Yukina trailed off and closed her eyes regretfully, “I’ve not been a very good friend to Kazuma.”

“What?! No! Yukina! What makes you think that!?” Keiko cried, alarmed by Yukina’s declaration.

“Kazuma always talked to me about my feelings. He talked to me about how I felt, and what I was going through… we never talked about his feelings. We focused on all my uncertainties, and none of his,” Yukina whispered, eyes fluttering sadly.

Keiko was quiet for a moment, before letting out a soft chuckle, “That’s just like Kuwabara don’t you think?”

Yukina tilted her head at Keiko, confused by the other woman’s amusement.

With a playful tap on Yukina’s nose, Keiko continued, “Putting someone else before himself. Especially a maiden. As a man, he probably thought it was his duty to help you with your feelings before seeing to his own.”

“Or maybe he already knew what was in his heart,” Shizuru’s tired voice interjected.

Keiko and Yukina jumped and turned back to look at Shizuru. She had not moved from her pallet, but her eyes were open, and her cheeks flushed with color. Yukina threw herself down next to Shizuru and placed a tender hand on her cheek.

“You’re awake!” Yukina breathed, eyes shining with relief, “Thank goodness!”

Shizuru shifted until she could untuck a hand from her side, and bring it gently to rest on the back of Yukina's head. Shizuru looked upon Yukina with a such a soft expression, Keiko had to shyly glance away. Shizuru stared at Yukina, her heart shining in her eyes for several long moments. But with a blink, the look was carefully locked back up and Shizuru’s hand slowly fell away.

“What’s this I hear about Kazuma and Yusuke? Kazuma and Yukina…” Shizuru began, clearly about to champion her brother’s feelings for Yukina.

Yukina shushed the woman, silencing any attempt Shizuru could make, “Hush Shizuru! Kazuma and I… we are not meant for each other. We don’t work. I don’t want him, not in that way. And I don’t want to hear you make any comments about being selfish or giving me back to your bother. I want you to want me! I want you to hold me, and keep me close! If you’re selfish, I’m more so, because I have no intention of ever leaving your side…” Yukina cleared her throat, her bravado dipping for a moment, “…If… if you’ll let me stand by it.”

Shizuru’s face was a mixture of joy and confusion. She opened her mouth to say something but failed to find anything to say, and instead was left floundering. Yukina pressed forward, planting a kiss against the woman’s lips, and Shizuru’s arms seized the petite snow maiden. Shizuru could deny her feelings with her words all she wanted, but her body could not. For a long joyous moment, Shizuru held Yukina against her, kissing the woman tightly, her hands roaming Yukina’s body with clear eagerness. Yukina was pressed just as eagerly against Shizuru, her hands fisting the blanket around the woman's body, her face flushed with joy. Shizuru's hands fell still on the back of Yukina's neck, and in the curve of her back, and both women sighed against each other as their lips continued to move against each other.

Finally, Shizuru pulled away, and weakly tried to say, “But… Kazuma-”

“Oh, you idiot!” Keiko gasped, whipping around to glare at the couple, “Yukina is as head over heels for you, as Yusuke is for your brother! And judging from all I’ve heard, Kuwabara loves Yusuke probably as much as you love Yukina! So quit being stubborn, and just go for it already!”

Shizuru blushed, embarrassed that she was being lectured by someone younger than her, but turned her hopeful eyes to Yukina.

“Yukina… I…”

Yukina smiled, and kissed Shizuru’s forehead, down to the bridge of her nose, to each cheek under her eyes, and then at last her lips. When Yukina pulled away, gems were falling down her cheeks and with a contented whisper she said, “Shizuru, we have a lot to talk about…”

Shizuru’s smile was radiant, and for one blissful moment, everything was right.

But the current situation caught up with Shizuru and she bolted upright, “Kazuma! That man! He’s in danger!”

Keiko reached out and grabbed Shizuru, “We know! But Yukina said Genkai and the boys went to go get him before that weird spaceman can get him! He’ll be alright! Yusuke will save Kuwabara!”

“NO!” Shizuru cried, a hand going to her chest as a racking cough cut her off.

“Shizuru, you’re still not well! Your fever only just went down!” Yukina simpered, sitting up, and placing an arm around Shizuru’s shoulders.

“No,” Shizuru repeated when her coughing had stopped, “No, we have to go! I’ve got to get to Tokyo, Kazu’s in danger-”

“Shizuru, you don’t know that!” Keiko argued, “Yusuke is too strong and too stubborn to let Kuwabara-”

Shizuru glared at Keiko, her face full of frustration, “Kazuma is in danger! So are the boys! And there’s no point in asking me how I know-I always know!  We’ve got to get to Tokyo!”

Keiko let out an exasperated sigh, “Shizuru! Realistically, what can we do?”

“We could warn them, at the very least…” Yukina offered, her eyes loyally glued to Shizuru’s face.

“Not just that…” Shizuru whispered looking at Yukina, “there’s something else we can do. Something Kazuma needs from you, Yukina.”

Yukina balked, blinking in confusion, “What… do you mean? What can I do?”

 


 

For the next hour Kurama, Hiei, and Yusuke observed the girls’ transformations and attacks. It was an odd sight to see their girls in their colorful costumes with their element based attacks. In quiet tones the three young men discussed strategies, and tests they could try with the young women. It was eventually decided for the six to pair off, Kurama with Makoto, Hiei with Rei, and Yusuke with Minako.

Yusuke slung an arm around Minako’s shoulders, “Alright, you’re with me kid. What are you called in this get up again?”

“Sailor Venus,” the blond sighed keeping a wary eye on Yusuke, unsure if she really should be heading off with him. She was also annoyed she didn't get to be with the pretty one, Kurama. 

“Okay Sailor Venus,” Yusuke rattled, not noticing or not caring about her uncertainty, “I noticed you and I have a few similar techniques. There seemed to be a few flaws with your attacks, however…”

“Flaws? Excuse me?” Sailor Venus gasped, clearly insulted by Yusuke’s comment.

Yusuke rolled her eyes, “Don’t get so uptight. I want to show you what I mean.”

Yusuke pulled her closer to the forest near Rei’s shrine and took a few steps away from the girl. Hands buried in his pockets he began to explain, “You have some attacks that I noticed were like mine. You called them the ‘Venus Crescent Beam,’ and ‘Venus Meteor shower.’ Your hand placements are a bit off, and you’re holding too much back.”

“Hand placements?” Sailor Venus scoffed, glaring at Yusuke.

Yusuke rolled his eyes and pulled his hands from his pockets shaking them out. “Pay attention,” Yusuke whispered, letting out a low breath as he began to channel his spirit energy. Sailor Venus’ frown fell from her face, and her mouth opened in shock as a power began to radiate off of Yusuke. The energy was foreign to her, not quite like anything she had ever encountered. But it was... strong.

Yusuke turned towards the forest and held out his hand, his index and thumb out as if it was a gun.

“Rei-gun!”

With a shout, Yusuke let out a stream of blue energy that cleared a path of trees in front of him in a thunderous roar. A chill ran up Sailor Venus’ spine as the power crackled through the air. His attack was far stronger than her Crescent Beam. Before she could even recover from her shock, Yusuke shifted his hand position. He kept his arm tucked at his side, and curled it into a fist, before he bent his knees, keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground.

“Shot gun!”

With his cry, he punched his fist forward, and several blasts of blue light exploded forth. The shots took down a wall of trees, the branches snapping in a cacophonous clatter. The leaves lit up and snuffed out from the power and wind his blast kicked up, and when the dust settled, as far as Sailor Venus could see was a path of destruction cutting through a once healthy wood.

“What in the world…” Sailor Venus whispered.

Yusuke grinned cheekily at Sailor Venus, a mischievous glint flashing in his eyes, “I’m sure you can do that too… you ready to try?”

All smiles, Minako eagerly stepped forward, ready to listen to Yusuke’s advice.

As the pair made off Kurama motioned for Makoto to follow him. He stood near the wreckage that Yusuke caused, eyes gazing out over the wreckage. There seemed to be some sort of thought behind his eye, but it was more calculating than emotional.

Kurama turned to the girl and offered a sweet smile, “Now… Sailor Jupiter correct? After watching your attacks I’m sure people would describe your moves as something based off brute force, and electricity based. But there’s something else sleeping in your power that I think needs to be drawn out.”

“Something… else?” Sailor Jupiter echoed, her voice tinged with nervousness.

Kurama ran a hand through his hair and then brought it before his mouth. He opened his palm, a pile of seemingly yellow dust in the center of his palm. He blew the powder out, it disappearing towards the wreckage of the forest. Sailor Jupiter glanced at Kurama waiting for something miraculous to happen. With a piercing flash of his green eyes, her expectations were met. Kurama’s eyes flashed for but a moment, and then the ground shook, as trees and grass exploded from the wreckage Yusuke had caused.

Kurama took a step back and placed a gentle hand on Sailor Jupiter’s back, “While your power is very great, I sense a natural quality about it. One tied to nature… I think we should coax that ability out. While thunder and lightning are very frightening and deadly, nature has a quiet danger about it.”

Kurama pierced Sailor Jupiter with a look, “And I need you more dangerous…”

Rei watched at her friends' exchanges with Yusuke and Kurama. Those two had revealed themselves to be demons or at least demonic in some sort of way. But despite what they were… they were good. She glanced at Hiei, shuddering at the aura he put off. It was hard for her to understand that this man wasn’t like the other monsters she and her friends had faced. With a deep breath, she turned to Hiei.

“Well?” She asked, her nerves and temper on edge.

Hiei gave her a speculative look, before sighing, “Rei? Sailor Mars? It doesn’t matter which… I don’t really care what you answer too. You called yourself a soldier of fire… and looking at all your attacks I can understand. You are… impressive. Your anger looks like it could rival mine. I’m not going to impress you with a flash of skill because what I want to talk to you about isn’t an attack. You’re plenty powerful and I would wager stronger than the other two here.”

Sailor Mars couldn’t help but let a pleased smile slip onto her face.

“But your control is laughable,” Hiei snorted, his tone half disgusted.

Her smile slipped right off her face.

“La-laughable?” she whispered, flinching at her own meek tone.

“It’s lacking. And probably because of your temper. But that’s where you are like me… I too have… a temper. It used to burn violently and destroyed all who crossed me. However, one day I learned anger would do me no good when I met someone truly strong. What I needed was control. And that’s what we’re going to go over. Control.”

“My control is fine!” Sailor Mars snapped.

“But your temper is not!” Hiei snarled, “How can I believe you can control your fire if you can barely hold onto your temper! You’ve been running hot since you first met us!”

Sailor Mars growled, a part of her knowing he was right. That she should listen to him. He was stronger, older, and clearly knew what he was saying. But another part of her, a louder part was aflame and demanding to teach him a lesson.

She gave into that part of herself.

“I’ll show you I have everything under control!” Sailor Mars snarled, pulling her hand back, “Mars Fire-bird… Strike!”

A bird made of flames sprung to life from her fingertips and charged towards Hiei. The shorter man actually smiled at the flames that reached out for him. Cries from the other scouts, as well as Kurama and Yusuke, called out towards the shorter demon, but he seemed unaffected. Hiei disappeared before the fire ever reached him, reappearing behind the fire-bird with his sword drawn. With a slash, he cleaved the flame in twain, and the conjured bird seemed to give out a cry of despair as it was snuffed out.

Sailor Mars faltered, startled from her own attack, and from Hiei’s counter. But then the shorter demon was in front of her face, and with a tilt of his head, he smirked at her, a small chuckle of amusement slipping past his lips. His knee crushed into her stomach, and she choked as her breath was ripped from her. She flew back, scraping against the hard ground, sliding for several feet before she came to an agonizingly slow stop.

She coughed, wheezing as she struggled for more breath. She had never been kicked so hard! And it seemed he did it with such little effort. As she coughed, hand fisting the earth beneath her, Hiei appeared before her, his boot stepping on her side. She winced, struggling to glare up at the man, her eyes burning with rage as with a very slight effort her kept her pinned.

“Your spirit is commendable, but as I said… you need to learn control. Sharpen your anger, and turn it into a useful weapon. Don’t let it be a hindrance,” Hiei cooly stated. He pressed his boot into her side for a brief moment applying pressure to her aching ribs, before casually removing it. Kneeling next to Rei, his hand brushed the hair from her face, and he chuckled suddenly. Sailor Mars forgot about her pain, as Hiei flashed her the tiniest of smiles.

“Let’s put that anger away, and try to come at me with a cool head,” he said.

And Sailor Mars wasn’t outside anymore.

Rei was miles, and miles away. Millions of miles. She was smaller, and her red dress spilled around her as she sat on the white sands of the moon. Her anger wrapped around her, and hot tears spilled from her cheeks. She wanted to get stronger, she wanted to be as strong as her teacher, but his might was just out of reach!

“Now, now Princess… you can’t fight me dressed like that, or with an angry head,” Her teacher’s serious voice called out to her from somewhere behind.

“I can’t transform anymore!” She spit back angrily.

“That is because you are too tired. You’ve worked hard today,” His voice continued to speak, drawing closer to her.

Bitterly she buried her hands in the white sands beneath her, “I’ve failed today!”

“Just because you’ve failed, doesn’t mean you didn’t give it your all,” his voice was directly behind her. His hand came to rest on the back of her head, and she could not help but look back at her mentor, her eyes locking with his red ones.

He smiled at her, a tender sign of affection he reserved only for her. He did not even smile for his prince, at least not like this. His fingers brushed through her hair, and he chuckled, “We’ve got to control that temper. When you can keep your head cool, you’ll truly be a worthy advisory.”

His hands slipped under her, and the little girl was lifted in the air and cradled tenderly against his chest and shoulder. Turning towards a castle he began to walk steadily towards it, his deep voice chiding, “Let’s get you cleaned up. There is always tomorrow. Tomorrow we’ll work harder, and maybe you will be able to beat me tomorrow.”

“You say that every day!” Rei sighed, pressing her head against his cheek.

“And I mean it every day. I’ll train you until you’re the best, and no one will ever escape your flames. I’ll teach you how to burn the world down, but control it so well you can singe the wings of a hummingbird if you so chose. Tomorrow, you’ll beat me.”

The girl sighed, undisturbed by his dark imagery. She was used to it by now and actually liked his dark and angry mood. It comforted her to see someone who could be angry, and calm. It was what she aspired to be, someone who could keep her temper boiling below the surface. Ready to spring it out at the correct moment. Hugging her teacher a little tighter, she smiled to herself.

“I’ll get you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow.”

Hiei and Sailor Mars both blinked, and her eyes sought his. The two blinked in sync, and she knew he had shared the same memory. She opened her mouth, but he pulled away abruptly, hand withdrawing from her in alarm. A myriad of emotions swam through his eyes, to settle finally on indifference.

“Get up, let’s try-”

Hiei’s words were cut off by the sounds of the shoji sliding open. All heads shot up to see Usagi and Kuwabara standing side by side, the blonde’s arm tucked around his waist, the girl looking up at him with determined support. Kuwabara looked grim but resigned. Stepping forward, his legs wobbling just a bit, Kuwabara looked out at the small gathering.

“Really there’s no use in delaying, the decision is clear,” Kuwabara eventually spoke, “I’m ready now. I’ll meditate, and see if I can unlock my memories,” Kuwabara sighed, his shoulders sagging, and he rolled his eyes as he pat his head, “Well… unlock whatever might be up there…”

 

 

End of Chapter 14

Chapter Text

In the silence of Rei’s kitchen, Makoto quietly watched as Kurama prepared a tea which had elements to aid Kuwabara in his meditation. Makoto was rather fond of tea herself and quite skilled in her own tea making crafts, but she was more than a little curious to see how this beautiful man prepared tea.

He had borrowed a mortar and pestle from Rei, and from seemingly thin air produced most of the ingredients he needed. Kurama gathered a few more items from Rei’s kitchen and then disappeared outside for the last two. Now the ingredients were spread out on the table and Makoto was pleased that she recognized most.

There was a bit of dried lemon balm, some lavender, some mint leaves, a few fennel seeds, and rose petals. Set aside for later was some golden honey, and the kettle was quietly boiling away. But there were two items Makoto didn’t recognize. Three small white flowers with red centers, and two purple leaves with light pink tips. They had a strong soothing smell of warmth and sticky sweetness. A glance at Kurama’s eyes told Makoto that the last two ingredients were not from the human world.

“Would you… like to help?” Kurama asked into the silence of the kitchen, his green eyes meeting hers.

Makoto blinked, and felt her face flush, “Y-yes. Sure. I make my own teas, I’d be glad to help.”

“I thought you might have the experience,” Kurama said as he passed her the mortar and pestle, “Your fingertips smell of Jasmine.”

Makoto felt the blush stain her cheeks more, and nervously began to grind the ingredients away muttering, “You have a strong…sense of smell?” Her words turned into a question, as a curious thought of what skills demons had entered her mind.

Really the group knew nothing about the three men in their homes, nothing from other than what they had been told. And it was all… complicated. There was a small demon who had been a demon his entire life, there was a person who thought they had been a human, had lived as a human, and then had been found to have mighty demon ancestry!-and then there was Kurama. Kurama who had been a demon for a long time, had almost died, had been reborn in the body of a human, and then now…?

“Maybe this is too personal… and you don’t have to answer, but are you demon now, or are you a human?” Makoto asked, pausing in her grinding.

Kurama, who was rifling through Rei’s cupboard, paused and glanced at Makoto. He held her gaze for a moment, before pulling out a large mug and clearing his throat, “I am… a demon spirit residing in a human vessel. I had become strong enough to leave this body and take on my old Youko form when I was ten… but I chose to stay within this body. This fully meshed my spirit with that of a human. I am… still a demon, and when the human part of myself grows old and dies, I’ll once again be able to attach myself to another vessel, and go back to being Youko if I choose.”

“But you could die as a human?” Makoto asked curiously.

Kurama had set down the cup and had found a tea-sieve, his hands still bustling as he answered, “Yes. Yes, I could die as a human. I could choose to let my spirit go and go on to the afterworld I suppose. When I made the choice to stay in this body, I planned to change my body when this one gave out. In the back of my head, I always planned to return to a demon body, to become… myself.”

Makoto passed him over the mortar and pestle so he could inspect her work. He looked through the bowl, nodded, and poured the ingredients in the tea-sieve. As he reached for the kettle, Makoto asked, “You speak as if… maybe that plan has… changed?”

Kurama quietly poured the steaming water over the tea, a strong pleasant smell filling the air as the tea was steeped. A silence hung in the air, and it seemed he may not answer. He set the kettle down and sighed, looking off towards the doorway of the kitchen, “When I was Youko, I loved very little. I loved coin, and shiny things, I loved deception, and I loved late night trysts and body’s twisting together in a sexual powerful need.”

Makoto’s eyed widened and her face flooded with color as she tried to push out the visuals that came to her mind. With how much she was blushing around the man, she really felt her age. Someone far too young to be mixing with this beautiful man.

Kurama continued unperturbed by the disturbance he had caused the younger girl, “I loved Kuronue and I loved myself above all else. But… I lost those things when I found myself near death. And I chose to go inside a vessel. I continued to only love my old life until one day my human mother… sacrificed her own safety and beauty to help me. No one… had done that for me… I had no memory of what a parent was like. So I stuck around. And now… I have many things to love. I have a mother, a father, a brother, wonderful friends and much more. The list is long, and I found I can even add a lot of my old life into this new life. My friends know what I was like, who I was, and a lot of that old me hasn’t changed. I’m kinder now, maybe a little more open, but I’m still Youko.”

“What I never thought I’d have was this deep connection I made with my friends. I’ve had friends before. But not like the three in that next room,” Kurama whispered softly, pointing out at the door, “I’ve never had friends like them. They mean more to me than… anything. More than the life I’ve always wanted to get back. Kuwabara is human.” His last sentence was sharp and interrupted his flow of speech. It stood out as an important thread in his monologue, and Makoto felt her eyes affixed to Kurama, entranced by what he would say next.

“Kuwabara is human. He will die one day. And this human body of mine will die too. I don’t like the thought of him being alone, and I know Yusuke and Hiei would understand. I think… the day Kuwabara dies instead of getting my own body. I might stay with him. Kuwabara shouldn’t be left alone… not ever again.”

Makoto blinked overwhelmed by the deep love and friendship Kurama had for his friends. She knew Kurama’s feelings for his friends were returned and it left her… speechless and envious. She loved her friends, but did she love them as deeply as these four men? She could never say… at least she could not compare her feelings to Kurama and his friends' right now.

“I hope… one day,” Makoto found herself whispering, “That my friends and I will love each other just as deeply as you all do.”

“You will,” Kurama answered with certainty. “You will.”

 

Makoto was in another kitchen.

Rei’s kitchen had fallen away, and towering walls of crystal, gold, and beautiful hues had built itself up around them. Makoto was suddenly small, much smaller than she was now. And she was pressed into Kurama’s side, clinging to his billowing green and gold robes, watching as he mixed something into a large bowel.

It was clear this was a kitchen of some sort. It was large and spacious, and fancier than any kitchen Makoto had ever seen, but it was still a kitchen. Pots and pans hung from hooks, and a sink was on with clear water filling a large bowl. A good smell was coming from the oven, overtaken slightly by a bad smell from the counter. On the counter, near Kurama, was a vessel that contained some bitter smelling tonic, purple bubbles lazily flitting off the mixture. Makoto wrinkled her nose and looked back at what Kurama was currently mixing.

With gentle fingers he sprinkled dried flower petals into his bowl, his eyes gazing into the substance. He seemed completely consumed by what he was doing. Makoto watched his face, once again in awe of her teacher’s beauty. She stared unblinkingly at him until a childish laughter brought her back to her senses. She turned towards the doorway, the clear beautiful laugh echoing from somewhere beyond.

“You can go play with the Princess if you like Mako dear,” Kurama’s rich voice soothed, his hand brushing down Makoto’s hair, “I’ll be doing a complicated step soon, and won’t need you for an hour.”

Makoto bit her lip suddenly nervous. She and the other girls were encouraged to play with Princess Serenity of course, but there was something very special about the Moon Princess. She had been told of course it was going to be her duty to protect her, and that the moon kingdom was very important. But these were concepts she couldn’t quite yet grasp. Just like how all the training she and her friends did with their teachers was important, but she couldn’t yet say why.

There was a lot she didn’t understand.

Makoto looked up at Kurama, wordlessly willing him to understand her confused heart.

Kurama smiled, his eyes gentle and smile radiant. He stopped his busy work and knelt before his young charge, “I see the wheels turning behind your eyes again. You don’t have to think so hard… doesn’t little Ami do that enough for everyone?” Kurama lightly pulled Makoto’s cheeks until the girl giggled and shied away.

Kurama smiled and reached into his robe, withdrawing some rose clips. With gentle fingers he affixed the clips into the girl’s brown ponytail, whispering quietly, “You don’t have to understand everything all at once. Just try to go through out your day, and make sense of what you can. Ask questions, but don’t overwhelm yourself, my dear… in time you will understand. ”

Makoto smiled, feeling a little relief at Kurama’s words. He was very good about settling the problems that could brew inside of her. He quieted her fears, and made her want to understand the mysteries of the world, to be kind and gentle… She wanted to be just as he was.

The sweet laughter was heard again, and she could hear her other friend’s voices mingling with the light giggle of the Moon Princess.

Quietly stepping away from Kurama, Makoto made her way to leave. “I hope,” Makoto began quietly, “I can become better friends with the Princess. I want us all to get along.”

“I’m sure you will,” Kurama reassured, eyes twinkling mysteriously, “And I’ll help you make wonderful teas and sweets to coax that friendship along.” He gave Makoto a wink, and then a nod, before turning back to his work.

She smiled one last time, before running out the door, to go and find her friends.

 

Makoto let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding and blinked rapidly until she was once again standing in Rei’s kitchen. Kurama was holing the carefully brewed tea in his hands and headed for the door. Makoto stared at his back, a sudden urgency blooming into her chest.

“Wait! Kurama… I just… I just saw…” Makoto began to sputter, too flustered to formulate the words she wanted to say.

Kurama stopped and looked back at her, a knowing look in his eyes. For a moment the two looked at each other and said nothing. Time stretched on with the two staring at each other, neither one of them seeming to be willing to make the first move. Kurama blinked and looked away, the strange spell breaking.

“Did you just see…?” Makoto swallowed her question hanging unfinished in the air.

“It doesn’t matter,” Kurama answered, his voice distant and detached, “It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters right now… is Kuwabara. I spent a year letting him down, and I’m not going to do that again. Right now, I just want to focus on Kuwabara and his safety. The rest of…” Kurama looked at Makoto, their eyes locking, “The rest of this will just have to wait. Everything else will just have to fall into place on its own. I’m not going to abandon Kuwabara again.”

And without turning back, Kurama left Makoto alone. Makoto felt surprisingly stung by his quick exit, and yet... a larger part of her understood completely. Something from long ago, something she couldn’t quite remember whispered to her, that Kurama’s friends had always come first. That a man with orange curls and robes like a sunset had always come first, and no one could come before him.

And she had always known that.

 


 

Kuwabara was inside what Rei had told him was her grandfather’s room. She had given him some robes to change into, white and red the colors belonging to the shrine. He was currently looking at himself in a mirror frowning lightly. The colors didn’t really suit him.

He was not a vain person, though he was always confident in his looks. But there was something terribly clashing about the red of the robes, and his auburn curls. Even the intense bleach white of the robes seemed to wash his already pale complexion out, making him look... bad. He sighed looking at the closed door, before back at himself. He was really just stalling. It had been many years since he’d felt like a bratty teenager again, but with the way he was dragging his feet…

He felt so childish.

Placing a hand over his eyes, he growled in frustration. He couldn’t understand why this was so hard. It was stupid. He was an adult. He had been battling demons since he was a kid. Fighting demons, as well as growing up and experiencing every day things had taught him when there was a possible solution to a problem, you went for it. No matter how difficult that was. That was just part of growing up and getting stronger.

But he was so hesitant.

How could he face those teenage girls and his friends who were so willing to fight for him, when he couldn’t reach out and help himself?

Once again disgusted with his cowardice, Kuwabara lashed out punching an angry fist in front of him. He was more than a little startled when his fist connected with something.

“Urameshi!”

Yusuke had materialized in front of him and held Kuwabara’s hand in his, brown eyes looking on at Kuwabara in quiet contemplation.

“You okay man?” Yusuke whispered fingers curled tight around Kuwabara’s fist.

Kuwabara dropped his hand, his fist still curled in Yusuke’s grasp, “I don’t know. Just… I’m just angry at myself.”

“Wanna… talk?” Yusuke asked awkwardly.

Kuwabara couldn’t help but smile at Yusuke’s clumsy question. Letting his shoulders drop he sighed, “I know everyone has said they understand my hesitation. Everyone is being really patient with me… but I don’t get it. I can’t stand that I’m hesitating. I’ve never been a person to be so… scared!”

Yusuke’s hands were trailing up Kuwabara’s arms until they settled on his shoulders. Yusuke squeezed Kuwabara’s shoulders, giving the gentle giant a firm but gentle shake.

“I’ve never really known you to hesitate either,” Yusuke admitted, a fond smile on his face, “You’ve always rushed in, consequences be damned! But… you know you’ve hesitated a few times before. Whenever you were worried how something would go for other people… that’s when you hesitated. Maybe you’re worried what your memories could mean for everyone else?”

Kuwabara stared at Yusuke for a long moment before snorting, “Since when are you so smart?”

“I had to pick up something from you college boy!” Yusuke teased drawing Kuwabara close so that he could lean up and ruffle Kuwabara’s curls.

Kuwabara lowered his head and let Yusuke bury his fingers in his curls. Kuwabara found himself curling his arms around Yusuke’s waist and tugging the shorter man into an embrace. An embrace Kuwabara elt he strongly needed. Completely undisturbed by the close distance, Yusuke’s fingers continued to rake through Kuwabara’s curls, drawing the stress from Kuwabara’s body with each pass. Closing his eyes, Kuwabara let himself be held taking comfort from the firm body in his arms. Yusuke’s fingers eventually stopped and his arms curled around Kuwabara’s shoulders, a hand cradling the back of Kuwabara’s head.

“If I could, I’d protect you from all of this,” Yusuke muttered, his tone steady and low.

Kuwabara shuddered, Yusuke’s conviction radiating off the shorter man in waves. Kuwabara squeezed Yusuke tight, burying his face in Yusuke’s neck, “That kind of thinking is what caused you to ignore me for a year…”

Yusuke’s hold tightened, “I’d do it right this time.”

Kuwabara held Yusuke tighter, before forcing himself to pull away, muttering, “I’ve been winding up in your arms a lot lately.”

“I don’t mind,” Yusuke insisted quickly, hands falling to Kuwabara’s forearms and holding them. He just wanted to hang on to Kuwabara a little longer. He was so unwilling to let go…

Kuwabara felt a flush crawl up the back of his neck and spread outward to his face. He turned, twisting his body away, only allowing his wrist to be caught in Yusuke’s firm grasp.

“I shouldn’t cling so much,” Kuwabara muttered, desperate for any type of an excuse.

“Cling as much as you want! I really don’t care. I want…” Yusuke bit off the rest of what he could say. He squeezed Kuwabara’s wrist, his palm sliding downward. Their palms brushed each other, and a shudder crawled down both their spines. And while Kuwabara was trying to pull away Yusuke was surging forward. His palm slid against Kuwabara’s, the thumbs and fingers brushing against each other, pulses thudding through their skin. Yusuke’s fingers slid through Kuwabara’s, and their hands interlocked.

Both heartbeats could be felt in their interlaced hands, hammering violently together in a sudden passioned rush.

Kuwabara finally dared to look back at his best friend and saw Yusuke’s eyes were ablaze.

For a moment, something was in the air. For a moment, anything was possible, and something was going to happen. Finally going to occur. Both men opened their mouths, words spilling over each other.

"Kuwabara. There's something-"

"I need... Yusuke I need to say-"

A hard knock on the door interrupted the pair, followed by Hiei’s voice, “Kuwabara? Kurama’s finished the drink.”

“C-Coming!” Kuwabara answered, his voice cracking like it used to in middle school.

The pair had jumped away from each other, both so startled from the intrusive knock. Their hands were apart but burned with the heat of their contact. The moment lost, and fear a fresh taste in both of their mouths, Kuwabara quickly left the room, Yusuke tailing behind. The two went to opposite sides of the room. Yusuke by Hiei, and Kuwabara with Kurama.

Their chance was over, and now they had to focus once again on the impending danger drawing close.

Kuwabara accepted the tea from Kurama and took a hesitant sip. Kuwabara’s eyebrows rose in surprised delight, before taking a longer loud slurp.

Kurama smiled, “This should help focus your energies. You should be able to put yourself into a calm state, and focus on what Rei has to teach you.”

Rei nodded approvingly, eyes focused on Kuwabara as the man downed the tea, “When you’re done we’ll lock ourselves in the temple room. There, I’ll guide you through the process of meditation. The sacred fire has always helped me see approaching danger, surely it can guide us in this way as well.”

Kuwabara finished his tea, and set the cup down firmly on the coffee table, “Well, it’s worth a shot at least. But I’ll be honest… I know I’m a teacher, but I’ve always been a terrible student.”

Usagi and Minako shared a look before giggling at Kuwabara’s confession.

Rei smiled a little as well, and pat Kuwabara on the shoulder, “Well I’m used to Usagi, so if I can be patient with her, you shouldn’t be too big a deal.”

Usagi stuck her tongue out at the shrine maiden, Rei willfully ignoring her. Kuwabara glanced at his friends one last time before he and Rei both disappeared into the back room. The door was shut, and after a moment a collective sigh went around the room.

“Well… I guess all we can do is wait…” Minako sighed folding her arms.

“How long does this fire meditation take?” Yusuke asked, looking around the room.

“Minutes… sometimes hours. Rei’s even spent a couple days meditating on a problem before,” Makoto answered, leaning casually against the wall.

Usagi checked her watch, “Well… we’ve got a couple hours left before Ami gets out of class… there’s not much else we can do but wait.”

"Unless you want to train some more?" Makoto suggested.

"I don't think we could properly focus," Kurama answered, Yusuke grunting in agreement.

The group exchanged looks and then began to sit and make themselves comfortable. Kurama was right. No one was in the mood to continue training, and with nothing else to do but wait for Kuwabara and Rei… the time stretched on. Many attempts for conversations were started, and all fell flat. The room was filled with too much anxiety and tension for anyone to focus on anything else.

So it was a relief when just after three, Mamoru showed up with Chibi-Usa.

The little girl burst into the shrine with a wild energy, and after seeing everyone sitting around tensely the girl groaned, “Ugh don’t tell me you all have sat like this all day!”

“Chibi-Usa!” Usagi called smiling at the little girl. She held out her arms for the young girl, the girl running forward obediently.

As the two embraced, Usagi let out a dramatic sigh, “It’s been a verrrrryyy tense day!”

Mamoru smiled sympathetically as Usagi, and then to the others, “Well school is out now… you can all take a break. Go out in shifts. Not everyone has to stay here now.”

“I’m going to stay,” Yusuke said with a shrug, his eyes fixed on the room Kuwabara was in.

Usagi cuddled Chibi-Usa closer and sighed, “I want to stay a little longer too.”

Mamoru smiled and drifted over to the couch, brushing some of Usagi's blond hair away from her cheek, "I'm with you then." He smiled at Usagi, his eyes shining in such a way that made Usagi blush, and her heart flutter.

Hiei and Kurama glanced at each other, and with a sharp nod, Hiei was gone, the door leading outside slightly ajar. Kurama bent down and squeezed Yusuke’s shoulder before he too ducked outside. Minako and Makoto whispered, before Minako announced that they would be going to wait for Ami, and perhaps buy some snacks. The two girls then hooked arms and were out of the room, eager to stretch their legs and leave the tense atmosphere.

Mamoru settled next to his girlfriend and glanced over at Yusuke’s concerned face.

“He’ll be okay. Rei won’t do anything that’ll harm your friend,” Mamoru promised, trying to smile reassuringly at Yusuke.

Yusuke glanced at Mamoru, before giving a cheeky grin, “I know. And even if she did, Kuwabara’s tough…”

Chibi-Usa glanced at the older members of the room and rolled her eyes, “You all are acting like something bad is going to happen! Mr. Kuwabara is cool and strong! He’ll be fine! You should all quit worrying!” She folded her hands across her chest, her chin raised superiorly.

Yusuke glanced at the little girl, before sharing a look with Usagi and Mamoru. Both their faces were such a picture perfect example of exasperated parents, Yusuke couldn’t help but throw back his head and laugh. After a long hard laugh, Yusuke let out a contented sigh, “You’ve got a lot of confidence kiddo.”

“Yeah, well it’s confidence in Mr. Kuwabara. And he’s amazing!” Chibi-Usa snarked, smirking at Yusuke as if he couldn’t understand something.

Yusuke grinned, “Glad you’re so confident in him. He’s a man who can accomplish anything!” Yusuke chuckled as he thought of how many times Kuwabara himself must have said those words.

“I can believe it,” Usagi chirped, smiling brightly. She nestled against Mamoru, his arm wrapping securely around his little family.

“Me too! Mr. Kuwabara saved me, and he always keeps trying! He’s really strong!” Chibi-Usa rattled, praising Kuwabara vigorously. She then pointed a finger at Yusuke, “So stop looking so sad! Mr. Kuwabara’s strong and get through anything.”

Yusuke jolted, blinking owlishly at the little girl, “Do I look sad?”

Chibi-Usa rolled her eyes and nodded her head firmly. Both Usagi and Mamoru chuckled at the girl’s comment and then smiled apologetically at Yusuke.

“You and your friends have all looked a little sad since coming here,” Usagi admitted.

“Well Princess, to be honest, we all royally screwed up for the past year. Me worse than anyone…” Yusuke sighed settling further into the couch. He propped his legs up on the coffee table, tucking his hands behind his head, “And now we’ve got a problem headed our way and also this… past life business. I mean I believe you guys had past lives and all but Kuwabara...? I dunno... it's all... It’s a big mess…”

“You’ll get through it,” Usagi encouraged, “You told us your stories. You’ve gotten through bad times before. You’ll get through this one too!”

Yusuke smiled, and nodded thankfully at Usagi, “Thanks for the vote of confidence kid. You all seem so high spirited… I can’t help but think we’ll be alright myself. I know I’ve been throwing around a lot of attitude, but I really appreciate you and your friends offering to help.”

“We haven’t known Mr. Kuwabara very long, but he’s nice! And he’d gone out of his way to help us mutliple times to keep Chibi-Usa safe. If we knew nothing else about him, his willingness to protect others is enough of a good reason to help!” Usagi said nodding emphatically as she made her point.

Yusuke chuckled along with Mamoru before leaning back and closing his eyes, “It’s nice to know there's a bunch of good kids out there working on keeping the world safe.” Pressing his shoulders squarely into the couch, Yusuke let his head fall back and his mind drift. Sinking into the soft whispers of the three on the opposite side of the room, Yusuke let himself drift off for a short rest.

 


 

“Ami!” Minako pulled ahead of Makoto and waved at their friend as she spotted her.

Ami shyly waved back, before breaking into a quick jog to join her two friends.

“How has it been going?” She asked, eyes darting between Minako and Makoto.

Minako folded her arms and sighed, “I don’t know… somewhere between okay and terrible. Everyone is pretty tense. And we’re trying to work on trusting each other. We had a little training session going on but that went… south.”

“Yeah, Rei got her butt handed to her by that short little angry guy!” Makoto gossiped. Catching Ami’s startled face, Makoto pat Ami’s back, “To be fair Rei kind of deserved it. She attacked first.”

Judging from Ami’s face, she wasn’t comforted by that explanation at all.

“Well… how was school?” Minako asked, quickly trying to change the subject.

“Good… Mr. Kuwabara was missed, but it seems like the email we forged was convincing enough,” Ami answered.

As the three slowly trekked towards Rei’s shrine they whispered quietly about the approaching danger. Makoto held her tongue about her weird memory in the kitchen. She wasn't sure she understood what she saw, and couldn't bring herself to mention it. Not even to her friends. That memory in the kitchen had been so real... and she knew Kurama has seen it too. She was... angry that he would dismiss her desire to talk about it, but on the one hand, Kurama's friend was going through something terrible.

'But... we could help each other if we talk about this,' Makoto thought suddenly, her green eyes flashing, 'He needs... he needs to acknowledge what we saw! He's going to talk to me... even if I have to make him,' Makoto thought, her lips pursing and her fists curling into a tight ball.

"Makoto... you okay?" Ami whispered interrupting that taller girl's thoughts.

"Yes... just... it's just been a long day," Makoto said, forcing a wide smile.

"If you're sure..." Ami said as she began to turn towards the road that led to Rei's shrine.

But before they could turn on the road, Minako tugged on Makoto and Ami’s sleeves, stopping the girls.

“Let’s not go back to the shrine right now,” Minako said, tilting her head towards the Crown’s Arcade, “Let’s go take a break. At least for an hour or so. I can’t go back to the shrine right now and do nothing. I’m going crazy!”

“Will Usagi be okay?” Ami asked wondering how their normally cheerful and hyper princess was holding up.

“Usagi will be fine… she’s been handling this all remarkably well,” Makoto said, seeming to realize how calmly Usagi was taking the entire situation, “I would normally think she’d be the first one who was bored and couldn’t stand all this waiting around.”

“Yeah, Usagi has been… surprisingly dedicated, sensitive, and attentive to this whole situation,” Minako mused, seeming to come to the same dawning realization as Makoto.

“She’s had a strong relationship with Mr. Kuwabara since the beginning. Perhaps that means something?” Ami suggested.

“Well according to Luna and Artemis, this Epsilon character was the Godson of Queen Serenity. If Kuwabara’s Epsilon, then Princess Serenity would have grown up with him,” Makoto mused, speaking slowly as her mind began to work on the information she had.

“Maybe Usagi instinctively remembers him!” Minako gasped, turning to Makoto in excitement.

"Maybe she does remember him...would she tell us?" Makoto asked voice rushed with concern.

"Why wouldn't she?"

"You didn't see how upset she was with Ami and me the other day!"

“Wait, wait, wait! Epsilon?” Ami interrupted, waving a hand between the two gossiping girls before Makoto and Minako could continue.

“Oh yeah, you weren’t with us today to hear the story from the cats!” Minako remembered, hissing with a bit of disappointment.

Makoto swung an arm around Ami, “Come on girl. Let’s catch you up over a shake at the arcade.”

And speaking in low voices, the three turned towards the arcade, planning on catching Ami up to speed.

 


 

He was having a heated argument.

Two people stood before him, their faces a mess of guilt, anger, sadness, and denial. They were dressed in shining glittering robes, their faces painted ornately with gold and intricate lines. He knew this meant something... but he couldn't remember what. Glittering crowns that looked like stars and twisted branched rest on the two figures heads and furs hung from their shoulders and dragged to the ground. As angry as he was at them, he loved them and served them.

He had served them for hundreds of years, their faces never changing, and his face also remaining the same. Time had slipped past him in a rush, and yet he stood untouched. The only thing that had changed was that they had sons now... and that was part of the problem.

He was throwing his hands in the air, gritting his teeth as he hissed at the pair. They were shaking their heads and angrily disagreeing, but their arguments lacked conviction.

They knew he was right.

“He is not safe! You can’t let him be alone with Epsilon!” He snarled, his voice rising, “You should contact Queen Serenity! Listen to what she has to say!"

“You are my most trusted knight, but I will not let you dictate how I should run my family!” The man in the couple snapped, his shining robes flashing brightly as he gestured.

With a snarl the knight turned from the pair, storming off his face mottled red with fury. They called after him as he left, but he did not turn back around. There was no point in talking to people who would not hear him! He was too angry at the denial of the royal family. On one hand, he could understand their reluctance to hear advice, but there comes a point when you shouldn’t be so stubborn.

And that point had been reached long ago.

All of Lyrae’s actions should have triggered red flags.

The time when he was small and pushed his nanny down the stairs, just because he was curious what would happen. Another flag should have been raised when a couple of years later he was found next to his dog, the dog frothing at the mouth from an unknown poison. The time that little servant boy went missing after spending a day playing with Lyrae. That boy had never been found. These were all terrible, terrible signs of Lyrae’s dark character.

And now Lyrae’s proclamation of intending to marry his brother!

Lyrae was sixteen.

Old enough to know better; too old to have parents claiming that he didn’t know better.

“Yusuke?”

The knight spun around on his heel, startled by the sound of a small boy’s voice.

“Epsilon, your majesty… what are you doing out of bed?” Yusuke asked, forcing warmth into his voice as he pushed aside his concerns.

The young prince, only about eight years old, had appeared from behind a pillar. He was dressed for bed, but far from his bedroom chamber. The boy hurried forward, and Yusuke reached out placing a hand on the back of the boy’s head.

“I had a bad feeling… and woke up,” Epsilon explained, looking up at Yusuke, his small face filled with concern.

Yusuke knelt down and pulled Epsilon up. Epsilon was tall for his age, and judging by his family line, would only continue to get taller. So picking the boy up was no small task, but Yusuke couldn’t help but indulge the child in being carried. The boy liked to be cuddled and wrapped in embraces, and Yusuke, along with others at the castle, was always willing to spoil the boy. A child was only a child for so long after all.

As Yusuke shifted the prince, the boy wrapped his arms tight around Yusuke’s neck and pressed his face snug against him. There was tremble in the child that made Yusuke's stomach twist and his temper flare.

“Are you scared?” Yusuke asked, voice soft with concern.

“I don’t know,” Epsilon answered his voice small, “I just… there was this bad feeling…”

Yusuke shifted Epsilon again and began walking back towards the prince’s room, “Do you want to tell me about it?”

Epsilon pressed his face even harder against Yusuke, and the older man ran a hand down the boy’s hair. Epsilon seemed to be gifted with the ability to see into the future. The royal line was often blessed with strong abilities and great power, but Epsilon’s skills were mysterious, to say the least. Epsilon seemed to be able to predict things, and sense things before they were going to happen. And on top of that, a bright energy was beginning to spark from the boy's fingertips, hinting at another power in the future.

Epsilon would be quite strong and be able to do a lot of good for the kingdom if properly guided.

Yusuke felt his lips tighten as he recalled Lyrae’s words to his parents just an hour ago:

“Epsilon's power is so great, that if used properly this small kingdom won’t have to remain small. It can grow big, and powerful. We can guide this kingdom-this galaxy towards… a better tomorrow! Epsilon is too special to marry off with anyone outside this family… so he should stay at my side. With our combined strengths… who could challenge us? I’ll take care of Epsilon, I am the only one who deserves him.”

Lyrae had been smiling as he spoke, his eyes glowing with pride. He didn’t seem aware that everything he said sounded… insane. His parents had been too shocked at first and then in a concerned tone pointed out that Lyrae could not marry his younger brother.

Lyrae had smiled, and tilted his head, "Why not? I'll be king one day... laws don't apply to us."

No one had said anything, leaving Lyrae to simply bid everyone goodnight.

“I think Lyrae is going to do something bad,” Epsilon’s voice cut through Yusuke’s thoughts.

Yusuke’s hold tightened around the little boy, “Why do you think that?”

“This feeling… well… it was a dream. A bad one. A nightmare… maybe… or…” Epsilon began to mutter, clearly squirming for an answer.

“Did you have a vision Epsilon?” Yusuke asked, stopping briefly outside a door. Shifting, he caught the doorknob, and pushed the door open, and revealed Epsilon’s bedroom. The room was well kept, overly spacious, and ornately decorated. The thick comforter of Epsilon’s bed was still pulled back, from Epsilon’s late night escape.

“I saw Lyrae in a black castle. Like black glass. He was going to… hurt people,” Epsilon whispered at last.

Yusuke set his jaw, and let out an angry breath. With gentle hands, he set Epsilon in his bed and proceeded to tuck the boy in. He smiled at Epsilon, staring hard at the little boy, “No matter what, I will keep you, safe little prince. If you ever need me, I will be there. I will do… anything to keep you safe and whole.”

Epsilon nodded, eyes uncertain, “…You don’t think Lyrae would hurt anyone do you?”

Yusuke wanted to say no, but it would be a lie. And this was a lie… that Yusuke couldn’t bring himself to say. He would not let Epsilon believe he was safe in the presence of his elder brother by lying. He would rather Epsilon be alive and suspicious, rather than have him be harmed and naive. But to warn Epsilon of Lyrae’s… dangerous personality felt… cruel somehow.

Stomach churning with a decision he could not make, Epsilon spoke again.

“In my dream Lyrae had a castle of black glass. And he was hurting people. You were there… and he was hurting you. But he was also hurting me. He did something and I pulled him into… a hole and we both… we were both gone.”

“That sounds like a bad dream,” Yusuke whispered, trying to make sense of the Prince’s nightmare.

“I don’t want to disappear,” Epsilon whispered, his voice choked with emotion, and eyes wet with tears, “I don’t want you to get hurt either.”

Yusuke looked down at Epsilon’s scared face, and a firm resolve stirred within him, “I won’t let you disappear. Ever. I promise you, little prince… I’ll keep you safe. You must help me… You can’t be alone with Lyrae. You must trust me when I say, you can’t be alone with your brother. No matter what, find a way to get away! Come get me, or your teacher, or your parents, but don’t let yourself be alone. Do everything within your power and get away from Lyrae.”

Epsilon nodded, looking a bit relieved. Yusuke suddenly wondered if Epsilon had told his parents that Lyrae scared them… and if they had done nothing. The knight swallowed hard and voice thick with emotion whispered, “Promise me, little prince… you will do everything within your power to never be alone with your brother. I will work on the rest to keep you safe, but you must never be alone with him! Promise!”

“I promise.”

Yusuke woke up, blinking his eyes rapidly. He shifted his head towards the left and saw Usagi hovering over him, her hand on his shoulder.

“Kuwabara’s done…” Usagi whispered, her voice soft and… disappointed.

Yusuke hastily sat up rubbing the sleep from his eyes and began looking around the room. He must have been sleeping a while, because Kurama and Hiei were back, as were the girls, Ami included. And standing outside a door was Rei and Kuwabara. Both of them were covered in sweat, their hair sticking to their flushed skin from the heat of the sacred fire. Yusuke met Kuwabara’s eye, hoping to hear some sort of good news.

Disappointment hit Yusuke like a ton of bricks as Kuwabara sighed, “I didn’t see anything. The meditation… didn’t work.”

 

 

 

End of Chapter 15

Chapter Text

It was well into the evening, the sun was going down outside, and everyone was back gathered at Rei's shrine. In a disappointed silence the group sat together, empty dinner plates in front of them.

The fires had failed.

Kuwabara had seen no vision and been given no guidance.

An entire day…wasted.

“Well… I’ll say it. Now what?” Yusuke sighed, his fingertips tracing the rim of his half-empty glass, “What do we do now? Is there anything to do?”

“Do we just wait for this Lyrae character to show up and kick some butt?” Minako asked peering around the room.

“We should continue to train together,” Hiei said, sitting away from the group, keeping a distance like always. “Kuwabara might not have remembered anything, it’s not likely he’s even the reincarnation of this Epsilon person anyway.”

Rei shot Hiei a look, trying to level him with a gaze. She knew what she remembered, and she also knew he saw it too. Hiei willfully avoided her eyes.

Makoto and Kurama were also looking at each other. Their green eyes were locked in private conversation. Makoto willing Kurama to speak about their moment in the kitchen, and Kurama willing her to be silent.

“Maybe we ask Pegasus,” Chibi-Usa’s small voice popped up, cutting through the miserable tension of the room.

The group jolted, as if coming awake, and turned to the small girl sitting on Kuwabara’s lap. She had settled herself there, along with the cats, and seemed to be trying to comfort the large man who had been quiet since coming out of the temple room with Rei. Usagi had sat on Kuwabara’s right side, her head on his shoulder, while Yusuke mirrored her on Kuwabara’s left side.

“Pegasus?” Yusuke asked, peering over at the little girl.

“He’s an ally of ours… Kuwabara’s met him,” Rei supplied lamely, glancing at her friends with uncertainty.

“Well, who is he?” Yusuke demanded, his voice a little petulant.

A chuckle emitted from Kuwabara’s throat, the first sound he’d made all evening. Kuwabara was slowly grinning, and then gave Yusuke a look before answering in a flat clipped tone, “He’s a fucking flying horse Urameshi.”

The pair looked at each other, and then howled with uncontrollable laughter.

“He’s a Pegasus! That’s…That’s… That’s better than a horse!” Chibi-Usa burst her face pink and offended.

Kuwabara tried to stifle his laughter, but it took a long moment. When he'd managed to get his laughter down to a wheeze, Kuwabara reached over and gave the little girl’s shoulder a light squeeze, “No, I’m sorry… we’re not trying to make fun.”

Kuwabara looked to Hiei and Kurama and cast them a meaningful look, “Pegasus helped me earlier… and when I was asleep he helped me wake up. I wouldn’t have been able to, without him.”

“Do we have a way to reach him? We have Chibi-Usa’s bell…” Mamoru murmured leaning forward.

“Chibi-usa could do it,” Usagi said with confidence, “But I think she would have to do it alone. He entrusted her with the bell… he speaks to her the most.”

“Now, wait a minute,” Yusuke interrupted, “Pegasus isn’t dangerous right? I’m not asking some kid to risk themselves right?”

“Of course not!” Usagi and Chibi-usa chimed together.

“We’d never risk Chibi-usa’s safety! Pegasus is our ally and can be trusted. He lends us his power against the latest foes we face,” Rei informed Yusuke.

“What else do you know about him?” Kurama asked intrigued.

“That he needs our help,” Ami supplied, her look contemplative, “Someone is trying to hurt a place called Elysion. It’s there that he guards something and protects people’s dreams. If those dreams are harmed or tainted it can have dire consequences on that person’s life.”

Hiei snorted with disbelief.

“Hiei stop,” Kurama sighed, echoed surprisingly enough by Kuwabara.

“This is actually why I was sent here by Koenma!” Kuwabara snapped, “Well…partly. I was to look into the girls, but he was more concerned about reports of these weird objects being pulled out of people’s bodies-”

“Kuwabara we know about the dream mirrors,” Yusuke interrupted, “The girl’s explained them to us. It’s a little hard to buy, but-”

Kuwabara let out an aggravated sigh, “Well believe it! I was hurt because one of their enemies pulled a literal mirror out of me! It hurts like hell and is very, very, real! It’s like… having all your strength ripped from you! As soon as it was out of my body I couldn’t do anything. I was awake but moving was nearly impossible. If this Pegasus is protecting these mirrors… it’s for a good reason.”

Hiei didn’t argue, but he sighed and folded his arms. His posture suggested he was relenting in the argument, but that he didn’t like it.

“Dream Mirrors aside,” Kurama said, clearing his throat to break the tension in the room, “What about this Elysion?”

“It’s his home if we are understanding it right,” Mamoru explained, “There he protects dreams and a crystal of some sort. This place is also tied to Earth. If this place is tainted, corrupted, or destroyed, Earth too will collapse.”


“I wonder if Elysion and Elysian are the same things?” Kurama mused, “In Greek, Elysian would be considered the peaceful fields humans goto when they die. It’s a heaven… If only Koenma was awake. Maybe he could tell us more about Elysion and if there’s any correlation,” Kurama sighed.

“Does it matter if there is a connection?” Mamoru asked eyes on Kurama.

“Maybe… I’m honestly wondering if this Pegasus works for Koenma. If the world he protects is connected to Spirit world somehow... If it is, then the enemies you’re fighting could be endangering Spirit World.”

“This problem seems more complicated the more we examine it,” Mamoru sighed pressing his folded hands to his lips in thought.

“Look, Elysion is nice and all, but can we get back to figuring out a way to help Kuwabara?” Yusuke sighed looking at Kurama with an exhausted expression, “So Pegasus is good. He’s a hero and protects dreams and babies! Great! Elysion, Elysian, all sounds the same to me so yeah, they’re probably the same! None of that matters right now! Now, can this Pegasus help Kuwabara or not!?”

“I would have to ask,” Chibi-Usa explained patiently talking over Yusuke's anger, “If Mr. Kuwabara needs to remember something I’m sure he can help. Memories are like dreams right?”

“It’s a good idea… and if you can ask him, I’d appreciate all the help I can get,” Kuwabara said gently patting the small girl’s head.

Chibi-usa smiled and hopped up, “I’m going to transform and go outside. I’m sure he’ll speak to me!”

“Do you want us nearby?” Mamoru asked, his tone dripping with a fatherly protectiveness.

“We could stand inside, by the door. You know just in case you’re nervous,” Usagi offered.

“I’ve got this! Don’t worry!” Chibi-Usa said with a dismissive wave before running towards Rei’s back porch.

Usagi and Mamoru deflated a little, and Kuwabara chuckled, “You know… what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

Mamoru and Usagi looked to Kuwabara, and then to each other before they both hurried to their feet to keep a watchful eye on their daughter. The girls giggled, while Yusuke shot Kuwabara a confused look. Kuwabara leaned over, whispering into Yusuke’s ear, “I’ll explain later.”

Yusuke’s ears were red when Kuwabara pulled away, but went unnoticed by most everyone in the room.

“We should talk about who is going back to school tomorrow…” Ami suddenly spoke up, “I don’t think the same people should stay behind.”

“I’ll go back tomorrow, and Usagi should too. She can’t afford to miss too much school!” Makoto said with a small sigh.

“I think I can get away with missing another day,” Minako said worrying her lower lip with her teeth.

“And I’ll skip class again as well. My school is more lenient with me since I have temple duties,” Rei explained casually.

“Geeze, being superheroes and school kids must be rough,” Yusuke mused.

“Wasn’t it for you?” Ami asked, her brows knitted with concern.

Yusuke grinned cheekily, “Nah. I was always skipping. I got into fights all the time and was a terrible student. I think the whole city was relieved when I dropped out of middle school.”

Ami’s mouth opened her face an amusing mixture of mortification and shock.

“I quit school to work for my step-father’s company,” Kurama admitted, eyes amused, “But I quit before then so that I could handle some matters in the demon world. Kuwabara here is the only one who was dedicated enough to remain in school and complete his education!”

Kuwabara snorted, “You guys had to handle much larger matters than I did. You had to deal with the demon world politics, and your ancestry… I had more of a choice. I always had a choice I suppose... and I chose school… because honestly fighting to me was a game. I enjoyed it less when there were such large stakes. People dying, the world in danger… I like to fight, but I began to resent that fighting became so... desperate.”

Kuwabara smiled a little sadly and looked over at the girls, “There might come a day where you have to choose which path is for you. After talking to Usagi she seems to think there is only one path… but there are always more paths to take. The day may come where you have to decide to live a normal life or continue to fight. Make peace with whatever decision you make, strive for as many paths as you can if you like… but remember sometimes choices slip out of your hands.”

Kuwabara sighed and looked at his own hands. He couldn’t help but think about all the choices he’d made in his life that felt like they were being ripped away from him. So many choices and desires he’d wanted were slipping from his fingers. He’d been fighting to maintain his choices but in the end… things were still falling apart. He closed his fists, hoping he had to strength to endure the changes, and the bravery to be flexible and change with them.

The girls exchanged looks with each other. It was uncomfortable to acknowledge that their past lives had laid out a path for their futures. To protect Princess Serenity, and in the future, Neo-Tokyo. They all had their own desires… but in the end, their duties were to their princess. There was going to be a lot to give up, and that hadn’t been a real thought on their minds until now.

“Thank you, Mr. Kuwabara, for your kind words,” Ami suddenly spoke up, her smile gentle, “We have a journey ahead of us… but I think for us, deep down we’ll always choose our princess. Not because the path is laid out before us, but because as Usagi, as Sailor Moon, or even as Princess Serenity, she’s always supported us. Because of this, I’m sure we’ll always support her.”

A tension they hadn’t known was there, bled from Minako, Rei, and Makoto’s shoulders. The girls smiled at Ami, and then politely at Kuwabara. The girls politely dipped their heads in gratitude for Kuwabara’s advice, and he smiled at them.

Yusuke, Kurama, and Hiei looked at Kuwabara in a bit of awe. It was strange seeing him now. Had Kuwabara changed so much in a year? Had they missed his growth into maturity?

Yusuke’s hand came to Kuwabara’s shoulder, and Yusuke was speaking before he even knew what he was going to say, “Kuwabara… I think you’re going to be a great teacher.”

Kuwabara’s face flushed red, and he laughed nervously just like he used to. He didn’t launch into appraising words of himself, or puff up his chest like he might have done as a teenager. Instead, he quietly thanked Yusuke, while looking truly honored by the compliment.

The sound of little feet on wood floors caused them all to look up.

Chibi-Usa had returned from outside, decked out in her Sailor Uniform. Her face was flushed, and she had a rather smug smile on her face.

“Did you talk to him?” Kuwabara asked, a little unsure of how to react to the girl’s eager expression.

“Yes!” Chibi-Usa answered chin held high.

“Well… spill! What did he say?” Yusuke asked impatiently.

“That he’ll help of course! He’ll see Kuwabara when he dreams and do what he can!” Chibi-Usa said before placing a hand on Kuwabara’s shoulder, “You should go to bed, get some sleep! Pegasus will help you when you dream.”

Chibi-Usa refused to share more of her conversation with Pegasus, claiming it to be private. In the end, Usagi and Mamoru could only shrug, and apologize for her willfulness. With nothing left more to do, the girls began to go their own way, with Rei extending her invitation to Kurama, Hiei, Yusuke, and Kuwabara to stay the night. Hiei disappeared outside with only the soft promise of, “I’ll be nearby,” following after him.

Makoto hesitated, but she reached approached Kurama, a stern look in her eyes, “Walk me home.”

Kurama looked at her, a little surprised.

Makoto kept her voice low, and glared hard at the older man, “I’m not asking.”

Kurama hesitated but nodded, and got to his feet. He placed a hand on Makoto’s back and called back “I’ll be back soon, I’ll be taking Makoto home.”

“Wait a minute! I want to walk home with the cute red-headed man too!” Minako burst, grabbing Ami’s arm and tugging the girl to join her. Without a hint of embarrassment, the blond slipped her arm through Kurama’s and bat her eyelashes at him, “Soooo… how about you tell me about yourself?”

“Well young lady, the first thing you should know is I’m far too old for you,” Kurama said, a charming smile plastered on his face.

Soon the room was empty for all but Rei, Kuwabara, and Yusuke. The three exchanged looks before Rei began to gather up the empty dishes. Kuwabara and Yusuke reached out the help, but she shooed their hands away, “No, let me get this. You’re guests. I’ll take care of this, and then add some more futons to that spare room so all of you can sleep more comfortably.”

“Oh no, you shouldn’t do this on your own,” Kuwabara protested.

“Yeah! I can wash a dish or two!” Yusuke offering a smile.

Rei hesitated, but after glancing at all the dirty dishes relented, “Okay… I really appreciate your offer. Thanks for the help.”

“Not at all, you girls are trying to help us with this new threat! The least we can do is be decent house guests!” Kuwabara said scooping up some glasses.

Yusuke snickered and swatted Kuwabara on his butt as the tall man bent over, “Isn’t he such a nice guy?”

“U-URAMESHI! Stay away from my ass!”

 


 

Kurama felt that he had grown several white hairs by the time he and Makoto walked Minako to her home. Ami had run away the moment she got her chance, too embarrassed by all the flirting to walk with them. Minako had flirted with him the entire walk, not caring how much older he was than her, or his dodging answers. He wondered if all teenaged girls were becoming so bold.

“Your friend has a… tenacious personality doesn’t she?” Kurama asked with a smile at Makoto.

Makoto had remained quiet on the walk while Ami and Minako were traveling with him. But now that they were alone, he felt the tension was back up, and he could feel a quiet anger radiating off the brown-haired girl.

“You remembered something in Rei’s kitchen earlier, right?” Makoto asked, voice cold and firm, “But you don’t want to deal with it?”

Kurama glanced at Makoto’s expression and sighed, “It’s more complicated than that-”

“So because it’s hard you’re going to run away?” Makoto snapped, jamming a finger into Kurama’s chest.

Kurama took a half step back from the force of her words and touch but reclaimed his ground as he snapped back, “I’m not running away. I acknowledge I saw something… but I don’t have the time to deal with it. All my focus should be on Kuwabara right now.”

“I understand something has happened between you and your friends, but you can’t ignore one problem in favor of another! Life is about solving many problems, not focusing on only one!” Makoto disagreed, “We remembered something. What if that memory is beneficial for Kuwabara?"

Kurama’s shocked face suggested he hadn’t considered that thought at all.

Makoto sighed annoyed, “If you and I are remembering things… then somehow we’re connected to all this. Somehow you have something to do with the moon kingdom as well-”

“I don’t think that’s possible,” Kurama interrupted, his voice firm, “I was a demon in my past, and this I remember clearly-”

“But before that? Can you account for your past life before that?” Makoto demanded.

“We don’t even know if there was a before that-”

“We do! Because we saw something in Rei’s kitchen!” Makoto rushed forward and grabbed Kurama’s arms, her eyes shining with conviction, “I know you saw it just like I did. I was a child! And you were making something… and you told me that I would become better friends with everyone. That was you in that memory!”

Kurama sighed, and gently took Makoto’s shaking hands, “Please… calm down.”

Makoto growled, but Kurama squeezed her hands. He sighed, “Yes, I admit… I saw you. I saw… an odd memory. I can’t explain it… and I don’t remember anything else.”

A silence passed between them, and eventually Makoto spoke, “Mr. Kuwabara is struggling to remember if he is this Epsilon. If he has access to a weapon that could defeat Lyrae. You want to help him, right? Then acknowledge what you’re going through. I think Mr. Kuwabara would be comforted to know he’s not alone in all this. That he’s not the only one with weird dreams or a past connection to the moon kingdom. You could be a key to helping him.”

Kurama sighed his eyes looking suddenly very lost. The anger that had been in Makoto’s chest faded away to a dull ache as a wave of sympathy washed over her. In a gentler tone, she continued speaking, “You all have a very special relationship with Mr. Kuwabara. It’s easy to tell how close your group is. Maybe… maybe he’s trying subconsciously not to remember his past… because in his mind that would be another reason for you all to be separated. If he hears you’re remembering something too… it will bring him comfort right?”

Kurama turned from Makoto and covered his eyes with a hand. His breathing had become sharp and his free hand curled into a fist. Makoto stood awkwardly watching him, uncertain as to what to do in order to comfort Kurama's distress.

“Don’t let anyone convince you, adults, fully understand what to do in the face of all problems… because we don’t. I’ve lived for hundreds of years and I still find it’s easy for me to make mistakes and not know what to do next,” Kurama sighed dropping his hand, “I’m an amazing strategist on the battlefield, and I could look at any problem from a technical angle and tell you the fastest and best solution. But handling problems with people… can be quite difficult for me.”

Kurama smiled at Makoto gently, “Tomorrow… should we talk to everyone together about what we saw?”

Makoto smiled, relief washing over her, “Yes! And… and can we talk about what happened in the kitchen? I want to know if we saw the exact same thing.”

“I’m sure we did,” Kurama answered offering his arm for Makoto. She took it, and then gently began to lead him to her apartment, “It didn’t feel like… a memory. It felt like I was reliving a moment. Like it was happening in the kitchen.”

Kurama nodded, “One minute I was talking to you in the shrine, and the next moment I was mixing up something that had a complicated name, and full of ingredients that I knew in the moment, but don’t remember now. And I had memories of you and…”

The pair stopped walking, Kurama looking up at the dark sky while Makoto looked at her feet.

A shy and awkward silence passed between the two before Makoto admitted, “I felt in that memory I really admired you. You were a treasured teacher… I trusted you. I trusted you a lot.”

“In that memory, you were also important to me. I’m afraid you remember better than I do,” Kurama admitted, his voice soft and sincere, “I remember you were important but I don’t know how. And if you were a student of mine… I don’t know what I would have been teaching you.”

“I don’t remember any of that either…” Makoto sighed, and pointed towards a small apartment building, “But if we keep talking about it perhaps we can remember more?”

“Maybe tomorrow,” Kurama answered with hesitation, “Surely your parents won’t appreciate a man being over so late.”

Makoto smiled sadly at Kurama. Her position shifted, and she tilted her head. She had this look of someone who had become used to something and was resigned to handle it. With a somber ease, Makoto admitted, “My parents died in a plane crash. It’s just me.”

Kurama jolted and opened his mouth but Makoto talked over him, “Don’t apologize. You didn’t cross any line, and you didn’t mean to bring it up. You didn’t know. I’ve had this conversation many times. I live on my own now, and I’m okay. Does that cover everything?”

“…My… you are used to having this conversation aren’t you?” Kurama asked, sadly impressed with her ability in knowing everything that could have stumbled out of his mouth.

Makoto shrugged, “It comes up. Everyone asks about your family at some point… So… can we keep talking about that memory? Please?”

Kurama blinked rapidly, a little overwhelmed by the situation he found himself in. After a moment, he sighed, and surrendered, “Sure. But only an hour. You have school… and I do need to get back to the shrine. I want to be with Kuwabara in case anything were to happen.”

“I understand… and thank you!” Makoto smiled and held open the door for Kurama, “And tomorrow… we’ll talk to them about what happened in the kitchen?”

“Yes… I promise.”

 


 

Usagi ran a comb gently through Chibi-Usa’s hair, getting the last of the knots out of the young girl’s hair.

“There…” Usagi muttered to herself before she quickly braided down the small girl’s hair into two pigtails.

As Usagi worked on her own hair, she slowly asked, “So… what did you and Pegasus talk about?”

“Mr. Kuwabara of course,” Chibi-Usa answered, raising an eyebrow at Usagi.

“I mean… what did you ask specifically? What did he say? Did he tell you anything… else? Does he know information about Mr. Kuwabara?”

Chibi-Usa rolled her eyes, and let out a petulant sigh, “Usagi… most of it’s private. He said he’ll help Mr. Kuwabara and that’s all I can say.”

Usagi sulked, her posture deflating, “You really can’t tell me more?”

“I’m sure tomorrow Mr. Kuwabara will tell us more! You just have to wait Usagi!” Chibi-Usa declared, jumping up to her feet. She straightened out her nightgown and smiled at the blond, chirping, “G’night!” before dashing off upstairs to her room.

Chibi-Usa could hear Usagi call her name out a few more times, but the little girl hastily shut her bedroom door and hopped into the safety of her bed. She folded her comforter around her, and snuggled against her pillows and stuffed toys, but was not ready to go to sleep. As she stared up at the ceiling she thought about her encounter with Pegasus.

He had been surprised to see her on her own when she called for him, but he was not upset. He landed a few yards away from her, and with caution, she had approached, speaking as she did so, “Pegasus! I’m sorry to call on you, but we need your help… please!”

“If I can provide it, you shall have it, my small maiden,” Pegasus readily answered, closing the distance between them, and dipping his warm nose into her hands.

“My friend Mr. Kuwabara… you helped him the other day. We think he needs to remember something so we can help protect him from someone bad. I was hoping you could help him,” Chibi-Usa explained shortly. She was speaking quickly since Pegasus never seemed to be able to stay long.

“Yes, I remember him… and I can help him. Or at least I can continue to try,” Pegasus said, pressing his snout against the girl’s hands, “He just needs to sleep, and when he dreams I’ll be able to assist him. Dreams are my domain… surely something can be done there.”

Chibi-Usa smiled, hugging Pegasus gently around his muzzle, “Thank you Pegasus! If there is anything I can do to help, please tell me. Me and my friends will do whatever we can!”

Pegasus nuzzled her cheek, the girl giggled as his warm breath brushed against her.

“Perhaps you can help,” he said, “I can guide you to Kuwabara’s dreams when you sleep… so… get some rest, and encourage him to do the same. Together we will find a solution to unlocking Kuwabara’s memories.”

His wings expanded signaling he would be departing soon. Chibi-Usa pressed her cheek against him, wishing they had more time, but with a bit of regret, parted from her friend. Pegasus lifted himself high in the air with two powerful strokes of his wings, and with his gaze on the little girl, flew off into the night.

A deep longing in her heart had filled her with his departure…

Chibi-Usa sighed and tried to settle her excited heart, and forced her eyes closed. Taking deep breaths she reminded herself she needed to sleep to help out her new friend and to see Pegasus again. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought of reuniting with Pegasus once more.

 


 

Usagi was dreaming, she was sure of it.

She had to be because she was standing amongst an unending sea of flowers looking up at the earth. For that sliver of a moment, she knew she was dreaming, but as she turned to grasp a flower she stopped being Usagi. She plucked the flower, and now she was Serenity, and the girl, Usagi, was a distant and completely separate entity.

Serenity touched the petals of the flower gently, tracing patterns into their soft skin. She sighed, her mind weighed down heavily with her troubles.

“Those sad sighs don’t suit you, Princess,” A familiar voice chided from behind her shoulder.

Serenity turned, blinking with a bit of surprise, “Epsilon! I thought you would be in court with Mother all day…”

Epsilon smiled at her, though it wasn’t a smile she could see. His visage was blinking and blurring with sunset colors of his robe. He was like a dancing prism of light that her eyes just couldn’t make out. Something in the back of her head told her that this wasn’t how he normally looked. That she could normally see his face…

“Your mother had to speak with an ambassador of earth,” Epsilon began to explain, but Serenity cut him off with a flurry of questions.

“Oh really? Will they be here long? Did they bring others with them? Knights? Royal family members? What do they want?”

Epsilon chuckled approaching the princess casually and placing an arm around the young girl, “Your feelings are so obvious… you are hoping to see the prince of Earth again aren’t you?”

Serenity’s face felt very warm, and she pressed the flower under her nose, “…No?”

Epsilon laughed, but it was not mocking. He squeezed her shoulder gently leaning close to her, “You have nothing to fear. You should tell him.”

“There’s nothing to tell!” Serenity hissed in a whisper as if her voice would echo in the garden.

“You like him… so tell him. And if you can’t do that, ask for his company. Sometimes the best way to express your feelings for another is by simply enjoying their company,” Epsilon explained with a wave of his hand.

“It’s not that easy!” Serenity sighed, pulling away and walking further amongst the flowers. With careful fingers, she began to pluck flowers that caught her interest and make a bouquet. Epsilon followed behind her, his footfalls familiar and comforting.

“Why isn’t it easy?” Epsilon asked, voice patient and wise.

“Because…” Serenity sighed, “He may not like me. He may not want me…”

“Then it would be his loss. Speaking the words that are in your heart can only empower you. If you release them and are rejected there could be pain,” Epsilon reasoned, “But small pains are a part of life, a part of growing. You’d only be made stronger. And if you’re not rejected you’ll be filled with such joy, your heart will be singing! Holding onto your words can turn them into poison, and cause a festering wound in your heart. ...You can only gain when you are honest."

Serenity stopped walking and glanced back at Epsilon, her lips curled into a pout and in a meek half-hearted voice, she argued, “You’ve lived such a long time… everything is too easy for you! You don’t remember the pains your youth brought you.”

She regretted the words as soon as she said them. The prism of colors that represented Epsilon seemed to dim, and he let out a sad little sigh. The distant part of her that was still Usagi, and knew that she was dreaming, wanted to apologize. But Serenity didn’t apologize, she merely waited for Epsilon to counter her point.

“My dear princess… because I’ve lived a long time and suffered from decisions in my youth… this is why I seem wise. Experience has made me seem like I understand everything, but I could grow as old as the sun and would still stumble and make mistakes. Keeping quiet… keeping my heart to myself never did me any good. It only hurts.”

Epsilon reached down and plucked a rose from a bush that Serenity had skipped over. He offered it out to her, the red petals blooming in his hands as an orange energy coursed from his fingertips, “I loved someone when I was young. We were of different stations and I knew that my family wouldn’t approve of my love for them. I'm sure my parents had already lined up a multitude of suitors for me, and the object of my affection... would not have been one of them. So I stayed quiet. He was… my everything but I stayed silent. And for what? To appease rules that had been made even before my parents’ time? And you know what…?”

Serenity slowly accepted the rose, adding it to her bouquet, “What?”

“He loved me too… and stayed quiet for similar reasons. It was a waste. A waste of time we could have spent in happiness, instead of self-induced painful silence!” Epsilon sighed, sounding truly disgusted with himself.

Serenity’s throat felt tight. She knew not very many people of Epsilon’s kingdom were left alive. Softly she asked, “And… is he…?”

Epsilon smiled, and folded his arms behind his back seeming to understand her need to be quiet, “Well… with my kingdom’s extinction… two good things have happened. I don’t really have a station anymore, so there is no excuse for me to deny my feelings. And as for the second…”

Epsilon looked back at the castle and lifted his arm high in greeting. Serenity followed Epsilon’s gaze and saw a man in familiar armor. The armor was not that of the moon kingdom’s though now he wore a clasp on his cape that marked him a high ranking guard of the moon kingdom. Stars, like the mark on Epsilon’s chest, were carved in his dull armor and showed he had once belonged somewhere else.

“We got a chance to be together. Time was on our side to give us a chance to be with one another and to be happy. No matter what your worries are princess… if you think you can be happy if you truly think you’re in love… go for it,” Epsilon smiled at Serenity, and then with a gentle pat on her hand left her side.

She watched as he walked through the flowers towards the soldier in his star encrusted armor. The knight met Epsilon halfway down the palace stairs, and his hands came to Epsilon’s face. She had known Epsilon and his court her entire life, and never realized the relationship Epsilon had with his former elite knight. Gently the two greeted, the knight’s hands coming to rest on Epsilon’s face, while Epsilon’s hands slipped to his back. The two stood in front of each other quietly for a moment, when Epsilon leaned in and kissed the other man gently.

Seeing Epsilon freely kiss the one he loved in the open air made her think of the Prince of Earth. They had far less barriers than Epsilon had with his knight.

‘I don’t need to be afraid… I just need to reach out and take my chance…’ She thought.

 


 

 

 

“You sure you want the floor? You slept on the floor last night!” Kuwabara whispered, leaning over the side of Rei’s guest bed to look down at Yusuke who was bundled up in a pallet on the floor.

“It’s fine Kuwabara! Don’t worry about it,” Yusuke sighed, shrugging his shoulders.

Yusuke glanced back at the two empty pallets in the room. Hiei had disappeared, which was normal, but Kurama was taking his time getting back from walking the girls’ to their homes. For now, it was just him and Kuwabara, and Kuwabara couldn’t seem to keep himself quiet. Every few minutes Kuwabara kept checking on Yusuke to see if he was comfortable.

“I just feel guilty about you sleeping on the floor again…” Kuwabara muttered.

“I slept on the floor all the time when I stayed over at your house,” Yusuke pointed out.

“We were younger then!” Kuwabara argued.

Yusuke laughed at Kuwabara’s complaint, and sighed, “You’re being silly. We weren’t that much younger! Fuck we’re still young now! And as a demon-I'm stupidly young! A floor is not going to bother me!”

Kuwabara let out a low grumble but said nothing else.

Yusuke sighed, and rolled his eyes, “Just… ugh!” Yusuke threw off his blanket and got up from his pallet. Ignoring Kuwabara’s wide-eyed shocked face, Yusuke pushed Kuwabara against the wall and wiggled his way into the bed. There wasn’t much space for two men in the bed, but now that Yusuke was there he didn’t plan on moving. Tired, and feeling bold, her turned towards Kuwabara, and thew his arm around Kuwabara’s waist, wiggling until his cheek was resting comfortably on Kuwabara’s chest.

“There,” Yusuke yawned, “Now I’m not on the floor.”

Kuwabara was grateful for the darkness in the bedroom. His cheeks certainly felt hot, and he could only guess at how red his face had become. Trying to remain calm, he reminded himself to breathe, and that he had slept next to Yusuke at least a dozen times before. This was no big deal.

Not a problem.

Awkwardly clearing his throat, and mumbling about his uncomfortable arm (that Yusuke had pinned against his side), Kuwabara moved said arm around and behind Yusuke’s shoulders. Yusuke took this as an invitation to press against Kuwabara’s side, and burrow thoroughly into him.

Kuwabara forced his eyes closed, afraid any moment that Yusuke would question why Kuwabara’s heart was rattling so loudly in his chest. The moment never came, but Yusuke began to pat Kuwabara’s arm. It was clumsy, and maybe a little hard, but Kuwabara understood Yusuke was trying to be comforting, and the familiarity of it all did, in fact, fill him with a comforting warmth.

It took a long time, long after Yusuke had stopped petting him and his breath had gotten even, and a little after Kurama snuck back in the room for his own pallet, but Kuwabara did finally close his eyes and slip off to sleep.

 


 

Kuwabara was falling through water, bubbles spewing out his mouth. He did not feel like he was drowning, nor did he fight the fall.

He opened his eyes for a moment, slowly as if he was waking, and spotted Harumi. She was larger than him, about a hundred times larger than him, and the hand she reached for him with could have enveloped him completely. The shadows of her fingers, formed a foreboding cage around his body, promising him violence. 

Briefly, it made him remember Rando, and his arm throbbed in an old familiar pain, his leg echoing that pain with a much stronger pulse.


“No,” a soft voice whispered, and white comforting light dissolved Harumi into nothing.

Gentle arms were pulling him through the water, lavender strands obscuring his vision. He closed his eyes as a name was gently whispered into his ear:

“Epsilon. Epsilon. Epsilon.”

“Mr. Kuwabara!”

 


 

Kuwabara opened his eyes at the sound of his name and was startled to see Chibi-usa waving at him. Helios stood just behind her, gazing at Kuwabara gently.

Kuwabara looked around himself and saw he stood about calf-deep in snow. Jerking his legs from the snow, he turned around in his spot and saw beautiful scenery all around him, snow falling in soft large clumps. They looked more like bubbles rather than snowflakes.

He took a few steps and could see trees covered in snow, and tall mountains. It was beautiful and put him at ease.

Turning back from the scene he looked again at Chibi-usa and Helios.

They were only a few yards away, but where Chibi-usa stood was different. Feathers and small shining pieces of light fell around her and Helios in a flurry. Large shining crystals were erupting from the glass ground she stood against. A smattering of rose bushes grew around the area as well, and it seemed the entire landscape behind the pair were made of crystals and flowers.

Chibi-usa was adorned in a beautiful white dress, her skirts fluttering around her with a wind, that Kuwabara couldn’t detect. Helios was next to her, dress finely as usual, and her hand was on his arm. Kuwabara wondered for a moment if Chibi-usa could actually see Helios or if she only saw a winged horse.

Stepping from his world of snow his foot sunk down onto a glass surface, and he had to close his eyes as something warm and bright flashed over him. He stumbled as he tried to regain his footing, and looked down at himself, gasping in mortification.

His feet were bare, and mystifyingly most of his body was also bare! A long cloak that had all the colors of a sunset, and weighed and felt like heavy furs were draped around his shoulders dragging to the ground. A deep purple crest that looked like a northern star was clipped against the ends of the cloak about his chest. His chest was bare, and he hastily grabbed the edges of his cloak and tugged it around himself. To make matters a little worse, his hips were wrapped in small golden beads, which held what was more or less a thin satin, very fine, very beautiful, loin cloth about him.

“Oh well, this is just great!” Kuwabara muttered, trying to hide within the long cloak.

“Um… I think you look…very pretty?” Chibi-Usa offered.

Kuwabara glanced at her, and the little girl shook her head trying to take back what she said, “I mean-I mean! You are very handsome! But your clothes are pretty! It looks like a sunset! I-”

Kuwabara sighed, and smiled, “It’s alright…it’s fine. I just… this is some weird outfit right?”

“You look like royalty!” Chibi-Usa offered with a shrug, “…Almost nearly kinda naked… royalty.”

Helios chuckled before hastily turning it into a cough, “Well now that you are here… I can help you.”

Kuwabara glanced at Helios, “Help me remember?”

Helios nodded, “Yes… we got close before. But now… now that you are more willing… I think we’ll be able to unlock those memories… maybe, finally,  break those chains around your dream mirror.”

Kuwabara nodded and looked back at the crystalline landscape. He turned, looking for the landscape of snow that he had been in, but could not see it. It had vanished without a trace. Brow furrowing Kuwabara asked, “Where exactly is this place.”

Helios smiled, his face looking peaceful, “We are in the dream that is pure enough to hide me from the darkness that would consume me. From the evils that would use my power. We are in the golden mirror.”

Gently he hovered his hand over Chibi-Usa’s head, the girl not seeming to notice, “We are in Chibi-Usa’s dream mirror.”

 

 

 

End of chapter 16.

Chapter Text

“Dream mirror…” Kuwabara murmured his brow furrowing as he looked at Helios and then Chibi-Usa.

The pair nodded as if that simple explanation was meant to be understood immediately by Kuwabara... which it wasn't.

Wrapping himself further in the folds of his cloak he mumbled, “Dream mirrors, dream mirrors... It’s all I’ve heard lately… Alright, I don't know how to deal with that at this moment... but let's just move on.” When Kuwabara felt that he had securely bundled his frame in the colorful cloak he let out a long sigh, “So… Now what? How do we unlock these memories?”

“I think it’s best if we walk for a little while,” Helios said gesturing with a hand, “I need to find your stream of consciousness… and then guide you through.”

“Didn’t you just like… wave your hands or pull me along or something like that before?” Kuwabara asked remembering when Helios had contacted him the first time in his dreams.

“Yes, that time I was able to easily set you on your path towards your memories, but I was within your dream then. We are in Chibi-Usa’s space… and my temporary space… rules are a little different now,” Helios answered reluctantly.

Chibi-usa’s hand reach out and hovered just over Helios’ arm. She moved her hand as if she was petting something and then asked, “Pegasus, do you need to go into Kuwabara’s dreams?”

“No… we should be able to do something from here… if my suspicions are correct,” Helios answered immediately, his face tilted towards the little girl and a gentle smile rose against his cheeks. The expression he directed towards the girl was incredibly soft and fond. It was such a gentle gaze, Kuwabara, for a moment, had a protective urge that made him want to push Helios down and lead Chibi-Usa away.

With great effort, Kuwabara resisted the sudden impulse.

The girl nodded, her lips turning down into a thoughtful pout. She ran her hand awkwardly hovering over Helios again, her hand not actually touching the young man. Kuwabara squinted at the strange sight. It seemed that she was petting something, but it must have been something Kuwabara couldn't see. Kuwabara checked Helios' face and saw the youth wasn't perturbed by the little girl's actions.

“Pegasus…?” Kuwabara began, trying to think of how to delicately ask a question.

“That’s what type of horse he is,” Chibi-usa answered readily flashing a bright smile to Kuwabara, “His wings, and his horn… aren’t they amazing?”

Kuwabara glanced back at Helios, catching the young man’s suddenly nervous expression. Clearing his throat a bit Kuwabara nodded, “Yes. Pegasus. A beautiful horse… So this beautiful place… this is all your dreams? The crystals, the animals, the lights…?”

Chibi-Usa nodded, “Yeah it’s all the things I like! Or things that remind me of home!” Chibi-usa jogged forward and pointed at some crystals that sprouted from the ground as if they blossomed like flowers. She placed her hand on the crystal, and rings of pinks, yellows, and blues rippled from her touch.

“These crystals make me think of Neo-Tokyo, and the palace where I grew up… where Mama and Papa are,” Chibi-usa began to explain her voice distant, but fond.

Kuwabara had taken Chibi-Usa’s distraction to whisper to Helios, “Can she not… see you as I do?”

“No,” Helios answered softly, his eyes glued to the little girl, “For her safety, and because I am in a weakened state, I’ve been hiding this form from her. In time… she can meet me like this… but it’s better if she not know. For now…” Helios nervously looked down and awkwardly asked, “Could I ask that you… not to say anything?”

Kuwabara nodded, “Sure… if I can also ask she not see my dreams…”

Helios glanced at Kuwabara, clearly surprised by the request.

Kuwabara sighed, not looking at Helios’ questioning face, “I don’t know what could be in my dreams... no... no scratch that." Kuwabara frowned, "I have an idea of what we could find, and it's not good. For over a year now my dreams have been mostly nightmares of something… terrible that happened to me.” Kuwabara gently touched his leg. It didn’t hurt him in this beautiful place. He had grown used to his leg hurting him even in his sleep, so it was a pleasant surprise that it didn't pulse with pain.

“I don’t want her to see what happened to me,” Kuwabara continued, “She doesn’t need to see that… that horrible moment. And even if she would want to… I’m not ready to share that memory with others. There are people who know what happened, and just their knowledge of it makes me feel... ashamed.”

Helios’ hand came to Kuwabara’s arm, “I will distract her away from your painful memories. But... Kuwabara... you should not feel shame for the experiences you've been through."

Kuwabara smiled, his expression bitter, "I know... so many people now how have given me that advice... but it's how I feel."

Helios looked at Kuwabara's grim face and let out a remorseful sight, "I must apologize… I encouraged her to be here. Chibi-Usa is… such a light. She has a way of guiding others to her and helping them… I hoped she could do the same for you here.”

Kuwabara smiled, “It’s not a bad thought… there is something special about Chibi-Usa and her mother… they help me… I can’t explain it… but things are… better with them.”

Helios nodded in complete understanding.

“Have you two been ignoring me?” Chibi-Usa’s voice suddenly cut in, and both the men snapped their attention to the little girl. She had a comically agitated look on her face, her cheeks puffed out and her eyes narrowed.

“Sorry Little Princess, Sorry!”

“Sorry, Small Maiden.”

Chibi-Usa sighed and ruffled her skirts rolling her eyes. She then looked past Kuwabara and Helios, and up before smiling and saying, “That’s boys for you…”

Helios and Kuwabara blinked with a momentary confusion before both turned around sharply. There was no one behind them. However, in their peripherals, both managed to catch sight of long glowing lavender strands of what seemed to be--hair.

When the pair turned back to Chibi-Usa, they again caught sight of the strange colored strands of hair, and Kuwabara felt a hand on his shoulder. He shuddered with discomfort and glancing at the small girl he saw her little face pinched in concern.

“You… see someone?” Kuwabara asked, trying to keep his voice level.

Chibi-Usa seemed nervous by the question and frowned with sudden uncertainty. She glanced at Helios and Kuwabara, before looking behind them again. Sounding a little uncertain she answered with a question, “You… don’t?”

“I can if I… concentrate very hard,” Helios admitted, turning much slower to look behind Kuwabara.

“There’s a woman and she’d kind and good. Strong too… but who she is or what she looks like… I can’t make that out. I know she's here to help, I've heard her voice before, and while I couldn't make out the words... I felt them.” Helios blinked, and his eyes darted, he had lost track of her.

Kuwabara looked at Helios, his brows raised in surprise. Helios shrugged and smiled awkwardly, "It's hard to explain. I just know that she wants to help you."

“I can't say I see anyone now. I’ve maybe seen someone… maybe I’ve seen a face, or heard a voice... but it’s only been when I sleep. And when I wake up… it’s gone,” Kuwabara sighed, feeling the familiar warm touch of a hand at his shoulder, and a name whispered softly against his hair: “Epsilon.”

Chibi-Usa frowned looking more concerned.

Sensing the girl’s growing worry, Kuwabara sputtered, “B-but I never feel threatened. Who… whoever is there… is never threatening and… they’ve even helped me… in my nightmares…” Kuwabara felt a tension bleed from his shoulders. It was a tension he hadn’t realized was there, but upon trying to comfort Chibi-Usa he’d come to realize the truth in his own words, and accidentally comforted himself.

The woman’s presence in his dreams never seemed to be hurting him. She was trying to rescue him. From Harumi. From drowning. From things that were too painful to deal with. Things he couldn’t bear alone. She was always... rescuing him.

The hand squeezed reassuringly on his shoulder, and Kuwabara said again, “She’s like a guardian… always trying to help me.”

Chibi-Usa seemed to relax a bit at Kuwabara’s words, and with a calm poise, she approached Kuwabara. She reached out her hand and held it out for Kuwabara, patiently waiting in a way the seemed beyond her young years. Kuwabara uncurled his hand from around the tight grip he kept on his cloak and took the girl’s offered hand.

“Mr. Kuwabara I don’t want you to worry,” Chibi-Usa stated, smiling brightly at the taller man, “The woman who is following you is someone I’ve always been told about. And I’ve seen her many times before in my dreams… encouraging me to do my best. She is Queen Serenity of the Silver Millennium… my grandmother. And if she’s with you she’s here to help.”

Chibi-Usa held out her other hand, and then, before Kuwabara’s eyes, slim white fingers appeared in Chibi-Usa’s palm, forming in a soft glowing light. A gentle light swelled next to them, and from the little girl’s hand, a tall woman's arm began to take place. A light swirled outwards and up until a fully grown woman was holding Chibi-Usa's hand, smiling at the little girl with deep affection.

Her hair was a light lavender and done in the same style of Chibi-Usa and Usagi. She was tall, slender and pale, and her whole body gave off a soft ethereal glow. Her white dress clung delicately around her only to pool in yards around her feet. Long sheer ribbons were behind her back that was reminiscent of a butterfly's wings. The woman smiled serenely at Chibi-Usa before turning to pierce Kuwabara with her lavender stare, a golden moon glittering on her forehead.

Gently releasing Chibi-Usa’s hand the woman raised it to smooth Kuwabara’s cheek, as a mother would her baby.

“Will you walk with me a little bit?” The woman asked, dragging her hand down to gently push Kuwabara’s chin up and close his mouth. He was unaware that he had been gawking in shock at her and flushed red with embarrassment at the own audible click of his jaw.

“Uh… uhm… s-sure?” Kuwabara managed, offering the woman his arm.

She smiled as she took it, “We have a lot to talk about.”

Chibi-Usa smiled as she watched the pair begin to walk away. She turned to look back at Pegasus who had the most stunned face a horse could ever have. She laughed before gently patting his nose and said, “We should go flying. I think they need to be alone.”

Pegasus could only nod his head and follow numbly after the little girl who continued to surprise him at every turn.

Kuwabara and the woman walked in silence. She led him past the crystals that sprouted in towers, and trees made of diamonds. They past bubbles, rainbows, and dancing lights that swirled around in the air. All of this in silence.

After a time, she steered Kuwabara towards an archway made of white stone. She moved her hand and a white void opened up within the archway. It took Kuwabara a moment, but he realized it was the snowy world he had first awoken in waiting for him in the archway.

Queen Serenity glanced at him and smiled, “Come.”

“Who are you?” Kuwabara asked, keeping his feet firmly planted.

“Queen Serenity…as Chibi-Usa said. I was Princess Serenity's… I was Usagi’s mother years ago,” the woman patiently explained. She smiled brighter, “I still consider myself her mother. And you… were dear to me too. My Godson. But you were always, have always been more... like my dearest family.”

Kuwabara felt his throat grow tight as emotions that didn’t feel like his own welled up within him. His feet became rooted to the ground and he refused to move. Many questions buzzed inside his head, but something else was buzzing too. An understanding. Something deep inside of him seemed to be aware of what was happening. Who this woman was to him. What questions he should ask, and what he already knew.

He understood everything!

He understood nothing...

Kuwabara shook his head and growled in frustration, “I don’t understand!”

Unexpected tears slipped down his cheeks, and Kuwabara wasn’t sure why he was crying...

“Please don’t cry Epsilon,” Queen Serenity whispered, her voice full of sympathy and love, “Please don’t cry.”

“My name is Kuwabara! I’m not Epsilon!” Kuwabara whispered, his voice hoarse as the tears kept sliding down his cheek. His heart had skipped a beat at the sound of that name. Skipped in a way it hadn't when he'd heard the name before.

Something inside him felt like it might explode.

“You are both Epsilon and Kuwabara my darling boy,” Queen Serenity whispered, taking both of his hands, “Please don’t fight it any more… let me help you remember.”

Kuwabara stared down hard at the ground unable to lift his head, even as another part of him yearned to look up.

“…Kuwabara… when we all lived together, and I called you Epsilon you were the son of my best and dearest friend,” Queen Serenity spoke softly, “You grew into a strong and loving young man, and had to endure very much. The loss of your parents, the war on your planet, the extinction of your people and home. You were under constant pursuit from your brother… I did what I could… and brought you and your remaining court to my home. You became part of my council and helped me with Serenity and my people. You were as dear as a brother and a child to me. And I know Serenity loved you very much.”

Kuwabara closed his eyes as the tears he didn’t understand blinded him.

“When the Moon kingdom of the Silver Millenium came to an end, I gave up everything I was and would ever be to allow my daughter and all who died to be reborn. To get a second chance,” Queen Serenity spoke on, “A chance to be reborn and to be happy. To make different choices, make new friends… meet old ones. And in my daughter’s case be reunited with her love… and for you as well.”

Kuwabara opened his eyes and looked up.

"Love?" Kuwabara croaked, angry at the hope that flooded his breast.

The woman smiled patiently, and stroked Kuwabara's cheek, "You know... you know deep down what I'm talking about."

The white void swallowed them both.

Snow billowed all around them, and Kuwabara suddenly felt calm surrounded by this place. He turned around, once again seeing the snow-covered mountains, and the tall great trees capped in white. This place put him at a calm, and the cold did not bother him, even dressed as he was. As a war raged within him, this white place did its best to make Kuwabara feel at ease.

“Your Star had wonderful snow storms. You once told me you missed them the most when you moved to the Moon,” Queen Serenity said quietly, interrupting Kuwabara's thoughts.

Kuwabara watched as large clumps of snow whirled around him and tried not to think about her words. “I don’t know… if I can handle anything you’re going to tell me,” Kuwabara admitted. He reached out catching a cluster of snow that melted slowly in his hand. He sighed, Queen Serenity echoing him sadly.

“Nothing I have to tell you is meant to hurt you… only help you,” the Queen whispered.

“I’m afraid of what I’ll remember,” Kuwabara whispered back, curling his hand into a fist. The snow melted in his grip, and water fell like tears from his whitened knuckles. He turned to her his face grim, “I’m… there’s a part of me that’s rejoicing to see you. And that part wants to hear everything you have to say, and embrace you as I would my mother... but…”

“You instinctively shrink away from what can cause you pain,” Queen Serenity whispered, “It’s only a natural mortal reaction… but you also are terrified of getting everything you want… or knowing you once had it. Right?”

Yusuke’s face came to Kuwabara’s mind and he turned from the Queen, taking long strides away from her.

He could only hear the crunching of snow beneath his feet and hoped that meant he could be in this serene place aloneThat he could leave her behind and have a moment to himself in the blistering white. He liked the snow, he always had. That’s why he had liked Yukina, she had this air around her. A literal cold air that brought him comfort, and reminded him of something familiar.

Something that felt like home.

He wondered now if that feeling had made him think he'd been in love with her. Or maybe he had actually loved her once, but the love he felt for Yusuke was greater? He didn't have the answer to either question.

“Goddammit!” Kuwabara shouted, stopping his march away from the Queen. He pressed his hands to his face, “Stop running away… why am I running away? God… fuck!” Kuwabara growled as he ran his hands over his face.

“You’re scared,” a gentle voice in front of him whispered.

He dropped his hands and opened his eyes. Pale lavender eyes met his, and he crumpled in the snow. "I  don't want to be scared," Kuwabara meekly whispered, shame heavy on his tongue, "I'm tired of being scared." 

The Queen gazed down at him, her expression soft and understanding, "You are not used to feeling like this. You've felt fear and weakness but... not like this. You fear this will all undo you... but my dear. It won't. You can do this."

Kuwabara's head dropped, his whole body feeling heavy as he slouched deeper in the snow. Kneeling before the woman he found himself looking for her footprints, but found he could only find his own.

“You’re not real?” Kuwabara found himself asking as his exhaustion settled deep in his bones.

“Not alive… but real,” Queen Serenity answered, her tone forever patient and gentle.

She kneeled in front of Kuwabara, joining him in the snow, “I died so that I could give everyone a better future… and you were included in that. But I left pieces of myself in places, and within my daughter for when I would be needed. I left a part of myself in you as well.”

Her hands came to Kuwabara’s shoulders, and he forced himself to look at her face. She smiled, her eyes glistening, “Now that you see me I don’t have much time. The part I left with you is meant to help you remember who you used to be… who you are. I’ve been trying to reach you for a long time now… but you have had trouble hearing me. And now… Lyrae is here and I’m not sure if I can help you in the way that I had hoped. But I can try… I can try and set you in the right direction. I will open the door... and then you will have to make the journey to recall your past.”

Kuwabara shuddered at the mention of Lyrae, “So… he’s… he’s really my brother?”

The Queen nodded solemnly.

“And he wants me…?” Kuwabara rasped, unable to voice the rest of his question.

“Let me help you as much as I can. If I had been able to help you sooner I could take my time in guiding you… but all I can do is awaken what I can and guide you,” Queen Serenity said, her hands reaching further up to lovingly caress over his hair, “I just need you to let me.”

Kuwabara swallowed hard, “There are things I’m afraid to remember.” He was so afraid. How long would he have to be afraid?

“…Do you know why the memories of Harumi hurt you so much?” Queen Serenity asked.

Kuwabara’s throat closed and he stared into her eyes, tears unwittingly pouring down his cheeks once more.

“It’s because you won’t look at them, and deal with them. You need to set the memories in their proper place. And that means you must acknowledge them. Locking these painful things away will not do you any good. You must look at them, and face the sharp edges. Take them for what they were, accept that it happened to you, and then share your pain with your loved ones. Your friends… your sister, they want to help. And they can. You just need to let them,” Queen Serenity wiped Kuwabara’s tears away with her thumbs, tears sticking to her own eyelashes.

Kuwabara choked on a sob for a minute, and a cold wind whipped around them. He shuddered, his body finally recognizing the freezing temperature around them.

“Okay,” he managed after another choked sob, “I… I’ll try.”

“It won’t be easy, but you can do it. And if you can do that… then you can handle remembering what I have to share,” Queen Serenity promised, her voice soft but full of conviction.

“Okay,” Kuwabara said again, weakly nodding, “Okay I’m… I’m ready.”

“Don’t fight it,” Queen Serenity whispered, “Let it flow into you falling softly like freshly fallen snow…” Her voice grew softer, and tenderly she leaned forward kissing his brow.

Something burst inside his head.

It was not a painful explosion. But an explosion of colors, lights, and streams of film that made up his life. His life. His past life. His lives.

It was a firework.

It filled the darkness of his mind and exploded in a burst of truth. And in that instant of knowing, understanding followed.

Years ago, before Princess Serenity had been a thought, and before Queen Serenity had even reached adulthood, and lifetimes before Kazuma Kuwabara existed, a baby named Epsilon was born. The baby belonged to a long line of royalty, a noble line that ruled the stars. They were a people blessed with long lives and strange powers. The powers were used to strengthen the people under the protection of the royal line, and through their own gifts, they extended their long lives to other. The baby named Epsilon would be the last of that line.

He was that child.

He had had an older brother named Lyrae, and parents who loved him. They ruled a pair of dual stars, a total of four, the number of their family. Their way was to have an heir of the Epsilon Lyrae star ruled by a family member. A person for each planet. This had been their kingdom’s way for generations.

It was Lyrae who wanted to break that tradition. Lyrae who had shown signs of mental instability, and parents who willfully ignored all those signs. Blind to Lyrae's cruelty and deaf to those that pointed out their eldest son's odd behavior. Lyrae grew stronger over the years, and with his cruelty unchecked, he grew worse. Queen Serenity had tried to get her friends to see the trouble brewing in their son… but parents love could be so blinding, and denial was a sweet nectar.

It was only when Lyrae made clear his intent on marrying his brother and his desire to rule all four stars that their parents realized their mistake.

Kuwabara saw his former life spin out in front of him. There were chunks he couldn’t see, couldn’t quite recall, but there was plenty that he remembered. Hiding as a child. A knight warning him of his brother’s intent. A council of trusted people. They taught him everything he knew and advised him on all matters. As Epsilon he was always in danger. So much danger. He had to escape and learn how to make something strong.

A weapon. A shield. It protected him from Lyrae. 

What was it...?

Kuwabara still couldn't see.

Lyrae destroyed his parents. Destroyed their stars. And when he had cast the kingdom into darkness and near extinction, he set his sights on Epsilon and what remained of Epsilon’s court. Queen Serenity saved Epsilon and his court then, and for a time Epsilon lived on the moon kingdom.

For a time they were happy. Even when Lyrae showed up. They were happy, and he was strong then… much stronger.

The weapon was in his hands and he used it… how? What was it?

“I don’t…” Kuwabara murmured, his voice slurred and sluggish.

“Sssshhhhh,” Queen Serenity shushed, her soft breath sending him spinning back into his memories.

 


 

 

With his weapon in hand, he spilled his elder brother’s blood on the sands of the Moon Kingdom. His friends were alongside him, as well as his Godmother, and she delt the final blow. It had not been fatal... nor had it meant to be.

“Lyrae, son of the Epsilon Lyrae kingdom, traitor to his bloodline, scourger or his people!” Queen Serenity shouted, her voice echoing in a rich powerful ringing tone. She held her wand in front of her, the Imperium Silver Crystal glowing with a violent white light. The flashing white light cast her face in great shadow and made her violet eyes red as blood. Her lovely face was even more beautiful under the strange light, but the sight of it would cast all into fits of terror.

Epsilon, young and full of sadness and disgust, glared down at his brother. Lyrae reached for his brother from the prone position on his back, his face twisted with betrayal and his eyes shining with lust. Epsilon’s stare was cold and flat, and he turned from him with ease.

Epsilon instead extended his hand back, and his hand was taken by a shorter man in armor. His dark hair was slicked back, and he was bloodied. When their hands met, their fingers interlocked, and in a short stride, the pair pressed together, supporting one another as they stood against each other.

Neither Epsilon or the knight cared to look at Lyrae who began screaming for his younger brother’s attention.

“Epsilon! Epsilon? EPSILON! LOOK AT ME!!” Lyrae roared as blood stained his teeth pink.

Epsilon didn’t, but remained with his knight, smiling down at the shorter man. The knight’s smile was cocky and smug; filled with joy and boyish charm.

Distantly Yusuke’s name flooded Kuwabara’s mind. The thought almost jerked him away from the memories, but a soft cooing sound from Queen Serenity sent him spiraling back.

“You have no power for threats,” Queen Serenity whispered, “And you have no place here in a land of peace. I banish you Lyrae, I banish you in stone. Wander the cold empty vastness of space… forever.”

The white sand of the moon began to surround Lyrae pressing in against his weakened body.

“What is this?” Lyrae hissed, eyes flashing with rage.

“I can not sentence you to death… you were my best friend’s son… and while I hate you so deeply it makes me sick…” Queen Serenity rasped her face hard as iron for a moment. She blinked, and her anger shifted to deep sadness, her violet eyes flooded with tears, “She would have asked me to spare you. But I banish you from this world. From all worlds! Go and spin into space, alone and cold. Think of what you have done!”

“Know this!” Lyrae hissed as dirt swarmed around him in clumps, “Know that I will hunt Epsilon like a beacon! And though it may take lifetimes… I will live on. I will live and find him. And if this kingdom still stands I will bring it to the ground!”

Lyrae’s threat thundered with an ominous power, but he was swarmed with dirt until he was sealed away in what looked like a white coffin. It floated before them for long quiet moments. Lyrae's voice had been completely sealed off. Queen Serenity touched the coffin-like object with her wand, and a soft light surrounded it. Gently the object rose and drifted away. When it was a dot against the black starry sky that surrounded Earth, it shot off streaking into space.

A meteorite gone… and meant to be forgotten.

Epsilon kissed the knight, and the knight happily returned the affection.

 


 

 

 

Kuwabara was face down in the snow, his body feeling hot despite the soft white against his mostly bare skin.

He had remembered a lot… but chunks were still missing. Pieces in his memory that were filled with empty spaces and white fog, but those missing pieces were so close he felt he could reach out and touch them.

Suddenly aware of a hand stroking his cheek, Kuwabara weakly pushed himself up.

“Epsilon…?” Queen Serenity whispered.

“…Who names their children… after the planet they rule?” Kuwabara grunted in response.

Queen Serenity laughed wetly, relief in her voice, “It’s a family name… and royal tradition. Much like Serenity is passed down in the Moon Kingdom.”

Kuwabara touched his chest and looked down. His chest was bare but for five tiny scars left behind from Toguro years ago. “Something… there should be something here. My family’s Siegel…”

Queen Serenity glanced down, and sighed, “Yes… you haven't remembered everything..."

“I remember… a lot but…” Kuwabara clenched a hand over his chest. He could no longer deny being Epsilon. He had memories of that life. Memories of a childhood, and loved ones who were dear. Kuwabara frowned, “There’s something else. More... that I just can’t…”

“I have opened the door for you,” Queen Serenity sighed. “The rest you’ll have to do on your own… if I had managed to reach you sooner…” She shook her head with regret, and looked down into the snow, “If we had been able to do this slowly I could have been more help to you.”

“But Lyrea pushed the timetable,” Kuwabara muttered, pushing past the wave of disgust, and forcing himself to stand. The new memories were settling in his brain. They weren't overwhelming him with their existence, but settling in his mind. Taking their place as pieces of his past. It was a strange feeling. Gently Kuwabara offered a hand and helped the Queen stand up.

Looking at her now… he felt different. But it was still distant. As if he’d seen a movie, and watched her interact with a character that he related to. He was sympathetic towards Epsilon and his life… but he did not feel like Epsilon.

“I’m sorry,” Kuwabara found himself saying, “I don’t feel… I don’t feel like anyone other than myself.”

“And you shouldn’t…” Queen Serenity sighed. She stared at Kuwabara as if he was a puzzle she could not quite make out. Gently she took his face, and moved his face from side to side, searching in his eyes for an answer.

She paused suddenly, “There is maybe… one thing more that I can do for you. Something… that can guide you when I can no longer do so…”

She pressed a palm over his heart and whispered, “Trust your instincts…”

Kuwabara narrowed his eyes in confusion, not sure what she meant. He opened his mouth to ask, but the woman began to glow, and her voice shimmered around him, “Close your eyes…”

He did.

 


 

 

Something poured into him. A familiar warmth that he had been bathed in before. It was strong and alive this light… it was going to change him somehow. Kuwabara felt his heartbeat, and it was the only thing in the world.

His beating heart.

It gave off five strong thumps, and Kuwabara felt himself being pulled in five different directions, and all at once. As his mind and essence were stretched out to all corners of time and space he could hear Queen Serenity’s voice telling him:

“Look for the clues…”

 


 

 

He was marching through the snow, much younger and dressed as he was now. There were people around him, most of them older. They were laughing with him and talking about various things. Activities they wanted to do together, and observations about the surroundings.

A hand ruffled his hair, and he brushed them off with a boyish pout. A gruffer man steadied Epsilon, offering a single nod before marching on ahead.

“Epsilon, this way!” A female voice giggled, steering the young boy away from a snow bank and the two taller men he'd been trying to follow.

Epsilon smiled and reached out. A young woman took his hand and squeezed. She flung a hand out into the air and snow breezed past seeming to come from her every gesture.

Epsilon gasped in amazement and fingers brushed the back of his head. The young prince turned to smile at his most favorite person and was delighted to see them grinning back.

 


 


“Connections…”

 


 

 

Kuwabara was not Epsilon anymore, but now someone else. He was older and everything around him was muddy. His gut… hurt. Pain… pain… Pain! Oh, so much pain!

He closed his eyes and looked down at his waist, seeing his hand fisted into bloody fabric.

“Don’t give up!” A voice snarled in his ear, and he was yanked up.

Someone came to his other side, and another familiar voice hissed in his ear, “I won’t let you die!”

Two men were dragging him, his feet unable to bear his weight. Someone with a sword was guiding them through a muddy trail. People in robes and armor would charge, and the man with the sword would lash out. In three slices the attackers would fall, and the group would continue on, carrying the person Kuwabara now was.

Snow started to fall.

“This way! In here, bring him here!” A woman’s voice called waving them over to a hut. His head lolled to the side and he tried to see the woman’s face, but everything was too blurry.

A hand touched his face, a calloused thumb on his lip. He closed his eyes and kissed that thumb as he had done many times before.

 


 

 

“Rei uses fire to recall the past and see visions… because she is a scout of fire…”

 


 

 

He was now a She.

And She was being kissed.

Her heart fluttered, and she held the white fox in her arms gently. She loved this person kissing her, had loved him all her 12 years of life. Ever since she was born she loved him.

A boy pulled back, and the two young preteens stared at each other. They had been fighting about something that now seemed so far away.

“I won’t hurt the fox,” the boy said gripping the girl’s shoulders, “but you need to hide him! Everyone… is starving. They’ll kill him.”

Relief flooded her chest and she pressed her head to the boy’s chest. He stiffened before hugging her, the fox chirping between them. A man and a woman’s voice was calling in the distance, possibly for them.

“Thank you…” she whispered, relief heavy in her voice. And then she blurted, “I love you!”

There was a long and awkward silence, brought upon by her sudden declaration and their inexperienced youth. His hands came to her hair, and very gently the boy whispered, “I… It’s starting to snow.”

 


 

 

“Fire is her way back…her connection to past and present.”

 


 

 

He closed his eyes, drowning out the chanting of the other monks. He was seated on a rock, snow softly falling and piling up on his shoulders and head.

He was meditating on the woman and child who had come to the shrine for help. His Master had tried to turn them away but she had come back. And he accepted the request instead…

This mission could be his undoing.

“Foolish, absolutely foolish,” the demon in white had whispered to him.

The demon always hung around their shrine, his silver hair, and silver tail twitching as he quietly watched the monks. He had not harmed anyone so was left alone… and besides…

The monk couldn’t attack someone who had a child. A strange child, with angry red eyes… but still a child.

“Foolish,” the demon’s whisper caressed his memories, “You will die saving the woman and her child… is that what you wish?”

The monk frowned. He felt… connected to the woman and the child. Especially the child. He had looked at the girl and an overwhelming emotion flooded him. It made him feel ready to burst!

He opened his eyes and thought readily, ‘I would die for this girl…’

 


 

 

“Find your connection.”

 


 

 

Kuwabara was startled as a blanket was dropped on his shoulders.

“You’re gonna get yourself sick!” Yusuke cautioned smiling.

“Ah, I like the cold… and the snow,” Kuwabara answered back cheekily. He shifted a little so Yusuke could sit next to him on the porch.

Yusuke readily did so, and the pair shared a blanket. But really… the cold didn’t bother him. Kuwabara smiled, contented in the presence of his friend, and looked out across the snow-covered shrine.

Kurama was talking with Genkai, Hiei nearby and paying no attention. Keiko and Yukina were building a snowman, Keiko bundled heavily while Yukina was dressed plainly. The girls were startled as Botan dropped snow on them from above, seated on her oar looking smug and cheerful.

Kuwabara slung an arm around Yusuke and laughed--his heart was full. Yusuke laughed alongside him, his hand easily resting comfortably around Kuwabara’s waist.

Kuwabara smiled as Yukina raised her hand towards Botan. She made a simple gesture, and snow blew Botan off her oar and tumbling into the fluffy white ground.

Yusuke and Kuwabara laughed again, clinging tightly to each other.

 


 

 

“Five,” Kuwabara rasped, eyes snapping open.

He was still in his serene world, surrounded by mountains and trees. But Queen Serenity was gone.

“Five lives… I’ve had… five?” Kuwabara murmured feeling dizzy.

Wind began to whip around him. A storm was coming.

“I… I had… I’ve had five lives? And… there… there were people. There are always people with me and they are important?”

“…Your court…” The Queen’s voice was a whisper on the wind.

A blast of snow hit Kuwabara in the face and he was pushed back a step, “…And Snow. Snow is… my connection. Snow will help me?”

The wind howled against him, and Kuwabara was forced to take steps backward in the blinding, freezing white.

“I… I need to meditate in snow… and… and find my court?” Kuwabara struggled with his words, grasping at straws as he formulated the words.

The wind gushed and the Queen’s voice echoed around him with a resounding, “Yes! Yes! Let this guide you! This will help you…”

“Help me… remember?” Kuwabara struggled to speak, and a strong blast of cold forced him on all fours.

“When you are awake… they will awake… and you will find… a way… to stop… Lyrae…” Queen Serenity’s voice was growing so soft. She was going away. He could feel her slipping further and further away.

A sadness suddenly blanketed him, and Kuwabara swallowed hard around it.

“You’re really going to be gone now… after I… after I’m starting to remember?” Kuwabara’s words were soft and lost in the snow.

But the ghost of a hand stroked the back of his head, “A part of me is always with you.”

Kuwabara was buffeted against the winds and knocked fully to the ground. He was becoming buried by all the snow, but even as it happened he wasn’t afraid. The snow piled on him and he wasn’t afraid. His eyes closed and images flashed before his eyes.

Snow against a pale yellow sky.

A couple smiling down at him.

Lyrae.

An indescribable swirl of colors and lights.

A woman’s hand gently moving.

Robes that he would cling to.

Two armored figures.

Hands.

Lips.

Wrists.

All different, all unique, but he had kissed them all, and they had all belonged to one person.

They… were so… important. And he had to find them. Every time. He had to find those hands, wrists, and lips. Through space, time, and any distance. He was born to find them. Again, and again, and again…

The snow smothered him, and all was quiet.

That soft cold quiet comforted him and in that peace, he opened his eyes...

As Kuwabara blinked the spare room of Rei’s shrine came into view. Light from a window was just beginning to peak into the bedroom, the light too soft to disturb the other occupants. Kuwabara shifted slightly and glanced down as he became aware of a warmth on his chest.

Yusuke had rolled himself on top of Kuwabara’s body and clung to him greedily. His face was incredibly soft in his sleep making him look younger and sweeter than he ever acted in life.

Slowly Kuwabara raised a hand and pressed it to Yusuke’s cheek. Yusuke did not wake, but the corner of his mouth twitched up slightly and he pressed closer towards Kuwabara, cuddling harder against his tall and broad-chested pillow.

For a moment, Kuwabara could not tell if he was looking at Yusuke or the knight that Epsilon had loved long ago.

 

 

End of chapter 17

Chapter Text

When Yusuke woke up, his hands stretched out instinctively for Kuwabara. As his wiggling fingers found only sheets and pillows, Yusuke became fully awake.


Sitting up with a snort, he blinked his bleary eyes in the room. He was alone in the bed, and a quick survey of the room let him see that no one else was in the room. Kurama's pallet was made up neatly, while Hiei's remained untouched. Scrambling all at once, Yusuke tangled himself in the blankets and spilled ungracefully out of the bed. Cursing under his breath, Yusuke hurried to detangle himself before jumping to his feet. When he finally managed to rid himself of the troublesome sheets, he stormed towards the door reaching out for the handle.


Before he could grasp the doorknob, the door swung back revealing Kurama, who looked momentarily startled at the sight of Yusuke. The redhead blinked back his shock, and smiled wide at Yusuke before saying, “I was just about to get you! Kuwabara is recounting his dream to Rei… it seems like he got some useful information.”


“So the Pegasus guy came through?” Yusuke asked eagerly pushing past Kurama.


"It seems so," Kurama said as, with a gentle hand on Yusuke’s shoulder, he steered Yusuke towards the main sitting room where Kuwabara’s voice could be heard.


Yusuke pushed open a door and his eyes found Kuwabara almost instantly.


Kuwabara was holding a cup of coffee, gesturing with a free hand as he spoke to Rei. His curls were wild and there was a grin on his face. The young shrine maiden was listening to him speak with her mouth slightly open, and her eyes focused on his face. She seemed bewildered by whatever he was telling her, and it was almost comical to see such an open expression on her normally severe face.


Yusuke ran a hand through his hair, trying to smooth back his own mussed hair as he walked towards Kuwabara and Rei, eager to join in on the conversation. As Yusuke walked to join Kuwabara and Rei, his eyes flicked around the room, and spotted Hiei in the opposite corner, far from Kuwabara and Rei. He was turned away from the pair, his eyes closed, and expression bored. However, Yusuke knew Hiei well enough by now, and he would bet his life that Hiei was listening intently to Kuwabara and Rei's conversation.

Mamoru was on the couch, looking a little sleepy from his early morning. He was sitting with Minako who looked half asleep herself, the white cat Artemis rubbing his cheek against hers. She spotted Yusuke and gave a smile of acknowledgment, and he nodded in return. 


“…So fires wouldn’t work for me. Apparently, my connection to the past is snow, and if we’re going to fully… I don’t know… awaken all my memories I need to meditate… in the snow? Or near it?” Kuwabara was saying before he spotted Yusuke.


Something odd flickered in Kuwabara’s eyes, and the tips of his ears went red, before he quickly brought his cup of coffee to his mouth, slurping noisily.

“What’s happening?” Yusuke asked standing firmly at Kuwabara’s side and looking at Rei.


Rei blinked her eyes rapidly and snapped her head to Yusuke. With a wild expression, Rei blurted, “Kuwabara has… has remembered some things. And apparently, if he meditates in a certain climate...his element he will remember more.”


Yusuke grinned and joked, “Well then we need about a hundred cats. He can meditate in a giant kitty pile.”


Kuwabara snorted and rolled his eyes, grumbling loudly into in coffee cup, “Cats are not an element… unfortunately.”


Yusuke threw back his head and laughed, slapping a hand on Kuwabara's back.  Kurama sighed before he interrupted Yusuke, “Be serious for a moment! Kuwabara… do you remember being Epsilon?”


Kuwabara did not meet Kurama’s gaze, but instead, let his eyes lock with Rei’s. “Yes,” he answered, his tone hollow, “Yes… I have memories of being Epsilon.”


All eyes were now on Kuwabara, focused on him in some moment of tense anticipation.


Kuwabara sighed and cleared his throat, “I remembered some things… but the memories don’t feel quite right. I feel like an onlooker in these memories… and yet they are mine. I am missing… a large chunk of information. But she said if I meditate in my, “connection to the past,” my element I suppose, I’ll remember more.”


“She?” Minako emphasized. She had crawled onto Rei’s couch and was on her knees, turned completely around so she could stare at Kuwabara. Artemis and Luna flanked her, their wide eyes also focused on Kuwabara.


“A woman called Queen Serenity-” (the moment Kuwabara said the woman’s name, Minako, Mamoru, and Rei all took in sharp gasps of air, high and quick behind their teeth,) “--was guiding me, and she said to look for connections. And… I saw my life and other lives… there were... there are more lives than Epsilon and Kuwabara. I had… more…”


Kuwabara’s voice was getting small and distant. Retelling his dream was a little harder than he thought. First, sharing it made him uncomfortable, and second, he was pretty sure he had forgotten large parts of it. Almost as soon as he woke up, large chunks of his dream had slipped through his fingers, leaving Kuwabara only with a few important details: He was Epsilon, his connection to past involved the snow, he did not know what the weapon to defeat Lyrae was, he needed to find his court… and Kuwabara was almost sure Epsilon had a lover, that looked remarkably like Yusuke Urameshi.

And if looking at Yusuke today wasn't the hardest thing in his life, he didn't know what was.


Staring hard into his now empty coffee mug Kuwabara continued to speak, “There is a weapon to defeat Lyrae, but I don’t have it. I didn't really even see anything about it... or I don't think I did? Queen Serenity gave me tasks to do... tasks that I think will help us. So I need to fully awaken all my past memories and that should, I'm... hoping... be the key to a lot of this. Having all my memories... must be what I need, and in order to do that, I need to meditate in the snow. Something about being in the cold is important to… all of this. Meditating with the fires won’t work for me. It must be snow.”

"I don't fully understand," Minako admitted.

"Neither do I. I just..." Kuwabara sighed, "As everyone has been saying I need to get all my memories back. I have some now but not all of them. I'm missing important details. Faces, and context... Not to mention the weapon that supposedly could stop Lyrae. I don't know what that is but I think I saw a glimpse of it."

"Did you see anything else important?" Yusuke asked, brows raised high on his forehead.

Kuwabara met Yusuke's eyes and for a moment saw Epsilon kissing a knight with gentle care. Kuwabara swallowed around a nervous lump in his throat and shook his head, looking away, "No... No, I don't think so."


“If he is having visions of Queen Serenity… and meditating with the snow is her advice, then we need to follow her instructions!” Luna piped up, her tail fluffed and swishing in excitement.


“But we don’t have snow! Anywhere! Where are we going to get snow!?” Rei suddenly burst, pointing out the rather large flaw with this plan.


“Okay… you demon guys, are really fast!” Minako suddenly pointed at Hiei and Yusuke, “Can you like… run to a mountain and run back with a lot of snow… and just… dump it on him or something?”

Yusuke burst aloud with laughter at the idea, “I love this kid!”


“I’m not going to even dignify that idiotic plan with an answer!” Hiei hissed, a sneer spread across his mouth.


Minako looked clearly unperturbed as she snarked, “Well now you’re just contradicting yourself, as what you just said was clearly an answer!”


There was a beat of silence, and Yusuke again howled with laughter. He even went as far as running towards Minako with his hand held up for the girl to give him a high-five. Minako grinned with delight as she slapped her hand against Yusuke’s.


Hiei's lip was curled back in a snarl, and he was probably only remaining in the room because Kurama had walked over to him and placed an understanding hand on his shoulder.


“…Ami, when she is Sailor Mercury can create a cold mist… it’s not snow… but it’s something?” Mamoru suddenly piped up, his voice carrying over Minako and Yusuke’s laughter.


“It might be all we can do for now,” Kurama agreed his voice distant as his thoughts were trying to come up with some other plan for snow. At the moment, he was drawing a blank as to how to get such a commodity in a hurry.


Rei glanced around the room, seeming to be hoping for other suggestions, but when there were none, her shoulders sagged and she sighed, “Alright… well… it means we’ll have to wait until this afternoon. She went to school with Makoto and Usagi.”


Kuwabara sighed, “Dammit… Gotta say I’m... I'm anxious. I'd like to get started on...something now. Anything!”


“And we could be running out of time,” Hiei sighed, annoyance thick in his voice, “I should just go get her! I could pick her up and bring her back in an instant!”


“Yeah and cause a school-wide panic!” Rei pointed out, but her eyes were contemplative, “I could see if we could set something up for lunchtime… I can call her and see if we can get her checked out of class around lunchtime, and then you could go get her.”


The corner of Hiei's mouth quirked up at Rei but was gone after a moment. Still, Rei had seen the slight smile, and she found herself standing up straighter with pride.


“I could fake an email from her mother,” Kurama suggested, “I’m not bad with a computer, as we've established.”


"Or forgery," Both Yusuke and Minako said at the same time, before giving each other another high-five.


“And I’ve met Ami’s mother, so I could help with the tone of the letter,” Mamoru added, immediately getting up to help aid in their plan.


“We still will have to wait… but it’s better than nothing,” Kuwabara sighed. He looked down at himself, rubbed the first few pricks of his two-day-old scruff, before admitting “…I need to go home and get a change of clothes.”


“You shouldn’t go alone,” was said by so many people of the room Kuwabara couldn’t help but roll his eyes and groan.


But then Yusuke’s voice added, “I’ll take you. And we’ll be right back. Back in twenty minutes.”


“I’m a little further than that…” Kuwabara pointed out.


“Doesn’t matter. I’m not Hiei fast, but close. I’ll carry you there,” Yusuke said with a wave of his hand.


Kuwabara flushed red, and his voice cracked as he protested, “I’m too big to be carried by you!”


“Nah man. Doesn’t matter. I'm a demon too, and I've got the muscle and speed to prove it. I can carry you easy, and we’ll be going fast. No one will see us, not unless they have spiritual abilities, and even then they’re not going to be able to do anything,” Yusuke clapped his hands together and grinned, “Come on Kuwabara show me your new place!”


"What about the Lyrae guy?" Kuwabara weakly protested.


"What about him?" Yusuke snorted, "He hasn't shown up yet, and if he does now I'd like to see him fucking try to take me on."


Kuwabara sighed, letting out a long gust of breath and nodded his consent. There was no point arguing, and his excuses were flimsy at best. Kuwabara needed a change of clothes... he just also needed to not think about being carried by Yusuke.


Minako climbed over the back of the couch and slipped a watch off of her wrist. She tugged Yusuke’s hand towards her and began to strap the watch on to his, all the while explaining, “This is our communicator. You click this red button here, and it will contact Rei’s watch and we’ll be able to talk. If there’s any problem you click the button and say where you are and we’ll come running!”


“I have a cell phone,” Yusuke pointed out, though he peered at the watch with curiosity.


“This works much better than a cell phone!” Minako easily dismissed, “Trust me.”


“Surprisingly, I do,” Yusuke said eyes focused on the watch, and not Minako’s suddenly beaming face.


“You’ll both be right back, right?” Rei asked as Yusuke began shoving Kuwabara towards the door.


Yusuke flashed a wide grin and held a thumbs up, “Keep your coals cooled! We’ll be right back.”


Kuwabara scrunched up a face, dragging his feet as Yusuke continued to shove him towards the door. “Did you just say keep your ‘coals cooled,’ Urameshi? The hell man?”

“Just shut up Kuwabara!”


“You’re the one who said it!”


"I know what I was saying when I said it!"


"Did you?!"

As their bickering voices faded from the room it was Artemis who asked, “They’ll be okay… right?”


Kurama and Hiei shared a commiserating look and shrugged. Some things were better left unsaid.

 


 


Kuwabara, while not attached to his apartment yet, was very happy to be back in his own place once he and Yusuke arrived. He needed a new change of clothes, to shower, shave, and brush his teeth. He also needed a moment away from Yusuke to school his emotions down.


When the pair had exited Rei’s shrine, Yusuke had twisted and stretched, shaking out his limbs. Before Kuwabara could even ask what Yusuke was doing, Yusuke placed himself at Kuwabara's side. He then bent down, and tucked an arm under Kuwabara’s knees and lifted the man up with barely any effort; carrying Kuwabara like an over-sized toddler at his hip.


“No, No, no, no no no!!!” Kuwabara groaned, both hands pressing against Yusuke's chest as he tried to get out of this bizarre and humiliating hold.


“Look I’m not princess carrying you!” Yusuke had snapped, “I’m so short and you’re so tall your ass would drag on the ground!”


"Then... then... can't you... fireman carry me?!" Kuwabara squeaked, his face glowing red.


"That'll be weird on my neck!" Yusuke whined scrunching up his nose.


Despite the embarrassment of his current situation, Kuwabara snorted with a brief moment of laughter before complaining, “I hate this.”

Yusuke and Kuwabara's eyes met briefly and both men giggled, overly amused by the awkwardness of it all. When they finally stopped their childish giggles Kuwabara wheezed and reiterated, "I really hate this!"


“Just… ball up! Make yourself smaller!” Yusuke supplied unhelpfully before he took off at a breakneck speed, Kuwabara pressed firmly against him.


Kuwabara, much to his horror, had no choice but to abide by this terrible moment of being tucked against Yusuke, looking like a giant being carried by a toddler. He wrapped his arms around Yusuke’s shoulders, and pressed his face against Yusuke’s neck and head, trying to make himself smaller, which was impossible. Keeping his eyes closed against the wind, Kuwabara relied on his spiritual awareness to guide them to his apartment and called out directions for Yusuke as he ran.


He was grateful he couldn’t see how they looked. In his head, he pictured a small little mouse carrying a large cat, and it was all mystifyingly ridiculous. But there were other reasons why this situation was horribly awkward, and those reasons Kuwabara couldn't name right now.


Now safely in his bathroom, a fine foam lathered on his face he could shave and try to collect his thoughts.


Kuwabara was supposed to find a court… maybe? He wasn’t quite sure what that exactly meant, or if he was remembering correctly. He assumed he needed to find some people, but what did that mean? Were they spread out all around the world, or were they nearby? How many were there? Did he know them?


His heart fluttered at that thought.


He paused with his razor, half his face shaved clean, the rest waiting to be done. Kuwabara had learned a long time ago that he should trust his instincts… but it still felt like wishful thinking if what he hoped to be true, was possible. He wanted his friends to be apart of his court. He had... no reason to suspect they were apart of his court. No clues.... except...


Epsilon embracing a knight entered his thoughts once more. That knight that looked so much like Yusuke.


Kuwabara brought his razor to his cheek, and in a clean swath shaved a path through his scruff.


That knight would be of Epsilon’s court, surely. Was it so much to hope that Yusuke was part of that court? That all his friends were part of that court?


'It is stupid,' Kuwabara thought suddenly his thoughts turning bitter, 'I'm being an idiot. Just because I want to be with them forever doesn't mean it's actually possible. You're dreaming Kazuma.'


Kuwabara winced as he accidentally pricked his cheek. He sighed and tore a piece of toilet paper off the roll and attached it to the pinprick sized cut. He wet his razor and resumed his shave trying to keep his thoughts calmer.


His friends… could they really be his court? Wouldn’t that be too convenient? Wishful-thinking… just like he had thought. And if not his friends was he supposed to joining up with strangers and rely on them? That had worked for Usagi, right? But would that really work for him? Where would that put his friends in regards to his court? If his court were indeed perfect strangers, would his friends stay and help, or expect him to rely on these new people?


Epsilon had kissed his knight.


Kuwabara was Epsilon.


…Could that knight have been Yusuke? If so, would Yusuke have memories of the past?

But neither Yusuke, Kurama, and Hiei had said they were having memories of a strange past. In fact, they all seemed a little skeptical of all of this, not that he fully blamed them. But if they had no memories... then maybe they weren't his court. If Yusuke wasn't the knight of the past, then would Kuwabara meet someone else that was? Would he be expected to have feelings for that person as Epsilon had in the past? 

The thought of shifting his emotions from Yusuke to someone else made him suddenly feel very sick.


Kuwabara swore as he cut himself again. This time the cut was larger, and the shaving cream stung his cut as a lazy red dribble of blood dripped down his cheek. He splashed water over his face having to accept he shabby shave. His mind was too muddled to allow him to focus on this delicate job today.


Placing a hand over his eyes, he took a deep breath and then broke away from his mirror.


After a quick shower, Kuwabara headed straight to his bedroom and tried to find something that wasn’t a button up shirt and tie. He finally found a plain gray shirt, and some jeans and quickly tugged those on. He wasn’t quite ready to show Yusuke the clothes he had been wearing lately, the nice ties and pressed shirts, that he kept carefully hung up in his closet. His old fears and concerns made Kuwabara believe that if Yusuke saw him in a boring buttoned up shirt and tie… that their friendship would somehow come to an end.


Kuwabara momentarily ran a hand over his face trying to banish his negative thoughts. As happy as he had been to see his friends just a day ago, it seemed like today he was filled with nothing but doubts and fears. "Come on Kazuma, get it together," Kuwabara whispered to himself feeling childish for his anxiety and nerves. Taking a steadying breath, and smoothing out the hem of his shirt, Kuwabara finally exited his room to go and find Yusuke.


He found Yusuke raiding his fridge, a frown on his face.


“Couldn’t find anything to mooch off of?” Kuwabara asked, forcing the unsteadiness out of his voice.


“No… your fridge is pretty bare!” Yusuke said, flashing his trademark cheeky grin.


Kuwabara smiled in response to the familiar warmth Yusuke’s grin brought, and shook his head, “Well we can get some breakfast back at the shrine.”


“Or…” Yusuke said his tone dipping as his eyes flashed mischievously, “We can go out and get breakfast ourselves… and then head back to the shrine.”


“We said we’d be right back,” Kuwabara countered, his brows raising up into his orange curls.


“All we’d be doing is sitting around waiting for that girl to get out of school, or sneak out during her lunch,” Yusuke closed the distance between him and Kuwabara, and poked Kuwabara firmly in the chest, “I say we take a break from all this doom and gloom and play hooky. Like we used to do! And I say we get some food, see what’s fun in this town, and then head back to the shrine in time for lunch!”


Kuwabara grinned despite everything telling him this was a bad day. “We really shouldn’t,” Kuwabara supplied lamely, but there was a fire stirring in his belly, and that old familiar thrill was beginning to course through his veins. Still, he managed to add, “What about Lyrae?”


“Fuck Lyrae,” Yusuke said viciously, his voice filled with pure hate, “Fuck him. If he shows up, I’ll keep you safe, and together we’ll take him out!” He clamped a hand on Kuwabara’s arm, squeezing it reassuringly.
Yusuke then shrugged carelessly, “…And if we need help from those girls, we’ll call ‘em.”


Kuwabara felt suddenly overcome with laughter, and it burst from him like a bomb. Along with his laughter, his arms sprang forward and seized Yusuke in a tight hug. Yusuke echoed his laughter and his motions and secured his arms around Kuwabara. Holding Kuwabara tight, Yusuke pressed his cheek against Kuwabara's chest, letting their laughter wash over the two of them.

In the moment of being caught in Yusuke's arms, all of Kuwabara's doubts and fears were made small. They fell off him in waves, leaving behind a renewed trust in his friends. It was stupid to doubt them. It was especially stupid to doubt Yusuke.


Kuwabara laughed until tears streamed down his face and choked out, “Urameshi… you’re the greatest! Never fucking change!”


Yusuke clapped Kuwabara hard on the back, and reluctantly pushed the taller man away, “So… let’s go. Show me the best place to get breakfast at!”


Kuwabara slung his arm around Yusuke’s shoulders and still grinning pulled Yusuke outside for a short stint around town.

 


 

 

Atop a bright red tower, a figure cloaked in furs and with a mane of golden hair glared down at the city below.


If the last seven pitiful humans he had murdered upon his journey had been right, this was Tokyo.


This was Tokyo, and Epsilon, his brother was here. At last, at last, he would have his brother. At last, they would be together as they had always been destined to be!


Lyrae turned his face up and inhaled the scents of this strange city. Smog. Dirt. Flowers. Rain. And there! A faint smell of fresh cold snow, red berries, an rich dark earth. Now that he was here he could smell the faint scent of his brother, somewhere in this city, and he could feel his power…


But it was strange.


The power was split into a million threads. A tactic, that Lyrae assumed, was his brother’s way of hiding from him. A tactic, that was working… for now.


“Soon little brother… soon,” Lyrae crooned. He smiled despite his setback. It was momentary. And in this time of searching for Epsilon, he intended to learn about his city and use what he could from it to his advantage. Lyrae sniffed the air, catching the scent and feeling of other strong powers scattered in the city. Darker energies that he would take and bend to his will.


"This ugly planet seems to have its uses after all," Lyrae chuckled turning towards the source of the energy. If Lyrae was going to have to deal with Epsilon’s knight and capturing Epsilon himself, he might as well see if he could gather up some more help from these strange and twisted energies he felt.


He would hunt those powers down first; they were easier to detect. Lyrae would then use his abilities to make a castle for himself, and his brother, once he had him. And then Lyrae felt, that in the absence of his old kingdoms, this place was as good as any to start a new kingdom. And this time Epsilon would be at his side, as he had always meant to be.


Earth would be the place to start for his universal takeover.


“Soon Epsilon,” Lyrae whispered again, and then with a wink of black and gold mist-like energy, Lyrae disappeared from his position on the tower.

 


 

 

A solid hour passed before Hiei let out a loud long sigh. It caught the attention of everyone in the room who had been sitting quietly, all trying to avoid eye contact and the knowledge that Yusuke and Kuwabara had not yet returned.


After his abrupt and loud groan, Hiei then proceeded to walk across the room, open the door that led to the back of the shrine, and leave. After a moment of silence, Kurama closed a magazine he had been pretending to look through. “Well,” the redhead sighed, “They’re playing hooky.”


“What?” Rei asked, echoed by Luna.


Kurama got up from his seat and explained, “Yusuke and Kuwabara. They’re playing hooky.”


“What do you mean?!” Rei snapped, her voice high and cracking.


“Like… they’re skipping out on us? On what’s happening? Really!?” Minako demanded, her voice more amused than appalled.


Kurama calmly went to Rei, and pointed at her watch, “If you want you can call them on the communicator to be sure… but I’ve known them both my entire life. When those two are together, and things get intense… they normally do something like this to break the tension.”


“You’re serious?” Mamoru asked, now joining Rei and Kurama, his eyes wide and bewildered, “Mr. Kuwabara is… from what I've seen he's wise and mature-”
A sharp sarcastic laugh could be heard from outside.


Kurama smiled unable to contain it, “Yes, Kuwabara can be wise, and mature… as we all can. But Yusuke and Kuwabara bring out… I wouldn’t say the worst in each other… but they bring out each others… truest selves.”


“Their truest selves?” Minako repeated, a blond brow arched into her hairline.


Kurama smiled, his eyes shining with affection, “They bring out… let’s say they bring out each other’s playful sides. No matter the danger, when they are together things feel.. lighter. And it shows in even their antics.”


Rei made an ugly, guttural noise that resonated from her chest and out her nose. Her face was red in anger and she snapped, “oh their playful sides?! I’m sure you must mean their immature sides! Their IDIOTIC sides! Their… their… I can’t BELIEVE THIS!!”


Rei brought her wrist to her face and pressed the button on her Scout communicator.


Minako whispered out of the corner of her mouth, “You can see the steam coming out of her ears…”


Mamoru crossed his arms and covered his mouth with his hand. His eyes were concerned, but he subtly nodded in agreement.


A moment later, Yusuke’s face appeared on the watch, his cheeks bulging with food.


“You!” Rei hissed, her face getting redder, “Where…. WHERE ARE YOU TWO?!”


“Geeze keep your voice down!” Yusuke’s voice crackled from the tiny screen, “I’m just having some Omu Rice! ‘Sa good Bre’fst.” Yusuke’s words became muffled as he stuffed more food into his mouth, completely unfazed by Rei’s anger.


Rei was so at a loss for what do, her blood boiling so hot, that she dropped her arm, and looked at Kurama helplessly.


Kurama smiled, and delicately picked up Rei’s hand, turning her wrist so that he had a clear view of the communicator. “Yusuke… Yusuke… really, is this wise?”


“Kuwabara and I are fine. I’ll call you if I need help,” Yusuke reassured from the screen.


"You didn't really answer the question," Kurama sighed, a calm smile still shining placidly on his face.


"Don't worry about it. I got this," Yusuke's voice crackled over the communicator, "We'll be back soon."


“But… But… but… but…” Rei was sputtering, the gears turning but her thoughts and words not formulating fast enough.


“There’s someone out there after you,” Mamoru piped up, “It’s not safe for you both to be out and about!”


“We’re fine kid,” Yusuke answered back, licking some ketchup from his thumb. “Kuwabara and I have been through dangers like this before. Sitting on our hands doesn’t work well for us. Don’t you guys worry. We’ll be back by like… sometime after one.”


“Yusuke,” Kurama said again, forcing his tone to be stern, “You should bring Kuwabara back now. For his safety at the very least. You’re in a strange town, and we can’t even sense Lyrae,”


Yusuke’s face became serious, “We’ll be back soon, I promise. And I’ll protect Kuwabara. He needs a moment to ignore all this bullshit…” Yusuke frowned, looking tense for a moment. He caught Kurama’s eye and then smiled, “We’ve got this. See ya!”


The screen went dark as Yusuke cut communication.


“They are so fucking stupid!” Rei wheezed, her language causing Minako, Mamoru, and the cats to gasp in shock.


“Rei!” Minako wheezed, her eyes wide with delight at seeing Rei’s cool crumble.


“Usagi’s done stupid shit before, but this really!!!” Rei growled pushing the palms of her hands into her eyes.


Minako howled in laughter, delighted by Rei's frustration.


Kurama chuckled at Rei’s anger, “It will be alright. They’ll be here by the time we’ve collected Ami… they’ll be okay. Yusuke may seem like he's being careless, but he's very protective over Kuwabara. And when those two are together they make a strong and unified team. It will be alight.”


Mamoru sighed crossing his arms. He was frustrated with the situation, and surprised by Kurama’s blase acceptance of their behavior. Mamoru cleared his throat, “Is this… how they are when they’re together? How are you taking this so calmly? There's a man after your friend, who could pose a threat to... everyone, and you condone their behavior?”


“I can understand your frustration and confusion… but trust me when I say we shouldn’t worry,” Kurama said, looking at least little apologetic, “If they were here Kuwabara would be worried, and Yusuke would be trying to cheer him up-and failing. They would both be stressed, and admittedly we would be adding to Kuwabara's stress. I think it's best we trust Yusuke and allow this diversion to happen. And if they do run into trouble... I'm sure they'd prefer that. Neither of them is the type to wait for trouble to find them..."


“They’d rather meet it?” Minako supplied, avoiding looking at Rei lest she burst into a fit of giggles.


“Something like that. Yusuke and Kuwabara are rash, but when they are together… it feels like they can accomplish anything,” Kurama said with a smile.


Rei let out an explosive breath and sighed, “…It reminds me a little of Usagi I suppose…”


“In what way?” Mamoru scoffed, unable to compare his girlfriend to Yusuke and Kuwabara.


“Usagi makes hasty decisions. A lot,” Minako stressed, leaning into her words.


“But,” Rei added, “it’s just her following her heart… and when she does it always works out well. Even when it seems... crazy.”


Mamoru nodded slowly, relenting to the idea, “So Kuwabara and Yusuke are just… trusting their instincts?”


Minako laced her hands together, and pressed them playfully to her cheek while giggling, “Or following their hearts!”


While she giggled, Kurama could only smile. “Yes… perhaps,” he said, “Perhaps. For now… please indulge them for their rash behavior. It’s never failed us before.”


“It’s still stupid,” Rei muttered under her breath.


Hiei’s voice carried over from outside, “I couldn’t agree more.”

 


 

 

Kuwabara was so delighted about being out on the town with Yusuke, he almost forgot about the crazy madness with Lyrae, dream mirrors, and Sailor Scouts.


Almost.


Kuwabara had felt a little guilty at the 24-hour diner when Rei and Kurama called insisting they return. Yusuke dismissed their worries and then turned off the communicator, before trying to steal some of Kuwabara’s soup. The argument that followed promptly made Kuwabara forget their troubles.


After the food, Yusuke pointed out an arcade. It wasn’t the Crown arcade that Usagi and the girls had showed Kuwabara, it was larger and flashier. There were plenty of games the pair could play including a fighting one where the two drew a crowd as they got the high scores.


They wound up running from the arcade when Yusuke smacked a pinball machine and dented the metal body of it.


“What were you thinking?!” Kuwabara hissed as they made their escape before the arcade owner noticed.


“I-I was mad! And I didn’t mean to hit it THAT hard!” Yusuke whined his hand gripping Kuwabara’s arm as he was led through back alleys.


When the two slowed their pace, it was Kuwabara who suddenly pointed out a movie poster, “Oh man! They got a Zatoichi the blind Swordsman reshowing!”


Yusuke squinted at the poster, before grinning broadly, “No man, that’s a reboot of the old film. Keiko told me about it, she said everyone who has seen it loves it!”


Kuwabara turned to Yusuke a huge smile stretched on his face, “Think there’s time?”


Yusuke grinned, “Oh hell yeah! Let’s fucking watch it!”


The pair bought themselves tickets and settled in to watch the movie. The tale of the blind swordsman did not disappoint. Humor, action, and stunning sword fights were woven expertly within the movie’s plot. The only fault could maybe be found in the strange intensity of the blood, but even then the whole movie experience was amazing. In silence the two enjoyed the film, their eyes glued to the screen.


For a moment the troubles that were pursuing Kuwabara, and the danger that threatened, possibly all of humanity, were gone. They were just Yusuke and Kuwabara, enjoying a film together. Something the pair hadn't done in well over a year.


As the film ended, in a surprising dance number by most of the film’s cast, Zatoichi, who had displayed an incredible amount of skill, despite his blindness, tripped over a rock. The screen froze as he fell, face first, towards the ground, and his words echoed throughout the theater, “Evend with my eyes wide open, I cannot see anything.”


Kuwabara and Yusuke, actually cheered as the credits rolled.


With reluctance, the two left the theater, begrudgingly walking in the direction of the shrine. By now they were an hour overdue to their agreed meet up time, but no matter how much you prepared for it, it was hard to leave the momentary reprise in leisure to the world of danger. But still, even if they were reluctant, they walked slowly but dutifully back to the shrine.


“Why d’ya think Zatoichi gave himself such a handicap?” Yusuke asked suddenly.


“What do you mean?” Kuwabara asked, walking side by side with Yusuke, their arms lightly touching. His leg trembled a little as he walked, but went unnoticed. For once, Kuwabara wasn't worried about his old injury and truthfully had forgotten about it in the moment.


“Zatoichi wasn’t blind. He could see. He had a clear advantage with his sight, and he only revealed it at the last second! What upper hand did closing off one of his senses give him?” Yusuke snorted, a dark brow raised.


“Oh and you haven’t held back in a fight before?” Kuwabara snorted, a grin slipping easily on his face, “If I’m remembering correctly, you had these weird… spirit cuffs in the Dark tournament that you were wearing so you would hold back in your fight with Toguro. You didn't do that to hold back, it was to hold back some of your strength right? To have a power you didn't want your enemy to know about.” Kuwabara gently elbowed Yusuke’s side, “It’s a… a good idea. Holding back. A secret technique is good in a pinch right?”


“Yeah but even with my big power reveal… it didn’t really work against Toguro,” Yusuke pointed out. He frowned, “Something more drastic had to happen to get my ass in gear.” Yusuke's voice was bitter, and his lips pinched down in a frown.


An awkward silence fell over them as they didn’t name what caused Yusuke’s sudden insurgence of power that day.


“He was also punishing himself,” Kuwabara eventually said, shattering the silence and shifting back to the original question.


“Hmm?” Yusuke grunted, taking a minute to be snapped out of his thoughts.


“Zatoichi. He regretted being a Yakuza that killed people. So he gave himself a handicap and assisted others who were being oppressed. It wasn’t… spelled out for us, but he made a promise to himself to do better. He... punished himself in a way to redeem himself,” Kuwabara reasoned.


“So he played up on being blind, while trying to help others. And only revealed the truth when it truly counted the most,” Yusuke added, his voice mildly hesitant as he drew a conclusion.


“Yeah, and not just to save his ass. He opened his eyes when it morally counted the most.” Kuwabara agreed with a nod.


“…It’s kinda stupid!”


Kuwabara threw back his head a sharp sudden bark of laughter slipping past his lips.


“Well it is!” Yusuke laughed, “Holy shit! Why punish yourself to make up for wrongdoings? You’re already making up the wrongdoings so why lower your skills-”


“Urameshi!”


“No! Seriously! Why lower your skills to make things harder on you when it comes to taking on bad guys or whatever-”


“It’s a movie Urameshi!”


“It’s bullshit!”


Kuwabara was now holding Yusuke’s shoulder and doubled over in laughter. He had bent over the wheeze and gasp as he choked on his fit.


“It’s just… dramatic bullll…shit!” Yusuke laughed, dragging out his last word the emphasize his point. "If you have some sort of secret end all beat all power, you should whip it out and use it!"


“It’s… it’s you know! He’s an honorable… an honorable man! A true man!” Kuwabara feebly explained, “And spoken or not, he made… some sort of promise to himself, or to a cause. Whatever that reason, that deal was important and he had to keep it. So… he only revealed his full power at the end.”


Yusuke grunted, seeming to be satisfied that Kuwabara answered, but maybe not satisfied with the answer itself. He waited for Kuwabara to catch his breath, and then the pair slowly continued their walk.  They pressed their shoulders together, Kuwabara leaning heavily against Yusuke now. The excitement of the day seemed to have put a bit of strain on his leg, but neither of the men seemed to care. Yusuke merely pressed his shoulder closer to Kuwabara's, walking in a contented silence with his best friend.

They were now close to the shrine, and the city had given way to family sized houses surrounded by trees and emptier streets. They were just a couple blocks away from the shrine.


Yusuke glanced at his watch, it was almost three in the afternoon. They had really taken their time in coming back…


So… a couple hours more couldn’t hurt right?


“Hey, Kuwabara?” Yusuke called out, stopping in the sidewalk and waiting for Kuwabara to turn and give him his full attention.

“Yeah… what is it?”


Yusuke then punched Kuwabara full on in the face.


Kuwabara yelped and then snorted, his eyes wide and confused. There was a moment of silence, before Kuwabara was grinning like a fool, and punched Yusuke back. The pair started laughing then, throwing powerful blows, and dodging with skilled and practiced ease. It took only a moment for the pair to fall into their old familiar routine.


If Yusuke held back a little, it wasn't commented on. And if Kuwabara’s leg, trembled more violently, and eventually gave out, well that was ignored as well. When his leg gave out, Yusuke threw his arms around Kuwabara's waist, and Kuwabara hooked an arm tight over Yusuke’s neck and wrestled him down into the grass. They tumbled, and wrestled for several minutes, digging knuckles into soft parts of each other's bodies, swearing when pain was caused, and laughing otherwise.

Eventually, they were done, fits of adrenaline riddled giggles slipping past their lips as they laid next to each other.


They wasted another couple of hours together, lying side by side in the grass, looking up at the changing sky. They had fresh bruises, and Kuwabara’s nose was bleeding. But the pair remained silent as the orange of the setting sun bled into the purples. They were incredibly late getting back to the shrine now.


“They are going to be really mad at us,” Kuwabara eventually said.


“Yeah well… they deserve to be. This was… stupid,” Yusuke admitted, sounding completely content with the choices the pair had made.


“Yeah…” Kuwabara agreed, a grin still plastered on his face.


His hand reached out and found Yusuke’s. He let it rest over Yusuke’s knuckles, holding Yusuke’s hand in the loosest of forms. Yusuke didn’t pull away or comment on the movement, so Kuwabara kept his hand on Yusuke’s, just enjoying the moment.


In Kuwabara’s head memories of a man with pale and unskilled hands reached out for a set of darker hands, covered in nicks and tiny scars. Without even trying, Kuwabara could remember countless times these pairs of hands met, and he could sense the changing relationship between these two people. He could recall encounters of these hands in times of danger, in times of preparation, of friendship, and loyalty. And in his mind, he could see when these hands reached for each other in a way that meant so much more.


Kuwabara and Yusuke were a lot like these people in his head.


If Kuwabara dared to be honest, he felt that these two in his mind, were Epsilon and his knight. And if he continued, to be honest, he would have to admit he was Epsilon… and that the growing suspicion that Yusuke was this knight from his visions, was true.


Kuwabara’s throat tightened, and he resisted the urge to squeeze Yusuke’s hand.


If Kuwabara was a little braver he could imagine himself telling Yusuke what he was thinking. That Yusuke was a knight from a kingdom that Kuwabara once belonged to. That Kuwabara was indeed this person called Epsilon, and Epsilon loved this knight that looked so much like Yusuke. And that now, even if Kuwabara was unsure about everything involving the Moon kingdom, Epsilon, and Lyrae; that even now Kuwabara was sure he loved Yusuke.


Kuwabara was not that brave today.


Kuwabara instead looked at his hands. They were still pale like Epsilon’s had been in the past. But Kuwabara’s hands were scarred from skill and from practice. The hands he had now, Kuwabara was sure, could do more than Epsilon's hands ever could. Kuwabara was stronger and he could endure more, and handle more. He could protect and care for his friends, and for the one he loved better than Epsilon had. 


Kuwabara squeezed Yusuke’s hand and cleared his throat, “I’ll… I’ll protect you in all this. You, Kurama… and Hiei. I won’t… I won’t give you guys any reason to worry either.”


“Hey,” Yusuke interrupted, his tone demanding Kuwabara’s full attention. When Kuwabara turned to look at Yusuke, Yusuke’s face was grim, and his eyes determined.


“We already promised to protect each other. We’re gonna do it right this time,” Yusuke said, his words soft but full of conviction. “We’re doing it right this time.”


Kuwabara squeezed Yusuke’s hand, and Yusuke squeezed back. It did feel right this time. This time, things wouldn’t go badly.

 


 

Yusuke knew Keiko could really yell when she was mad… he was not prepared for Rei’s wrath.


When Kuwabara and Yusuke had returned, well past six in the evening, Rei had pulled both grown men by their ears, forced them to their knees and screeched at them. Her scream nearly blew out their eardrums and caused all the birds in the nearby trees to scatter. Her wrath was a roaring fire and even Yusuke was too afraid to interrupt.


Hiei was actually laughing, looking delighted at the embarrassing scene.


Usagi at least looked sympathetic, having been on the receiving end of Rei’s anger many times. ( But she was a little pleased that the anger wasn’t being directed at her for once. ) She wrung her hands nervously, looking to her friends, then to Mamoru, and then to Chibi-Usa before repeating the process all over again.

"Should we... stop her?" Usagi eventually asked as Rei's shouting got shriller.

"No," Mamoru, Kurama, Hiei, and Minako answered together.


Ami actually was a little angry herself. She hadn’t been pleased to be pulled from school early, to only find that the boys had scampered off.


“I just don’t like leaving early for no reason!” Ami had huffed.


“There had been a reason… but then these two decided to go make fool’s of themselves for a while,” Kurama said, a smile on his face.


Ami had frowned more, and Minako and Makoto made to comfort her, even if they found the situation a little humorous.


When Rei felt she had fully chastised the boys the plan to create a colder atmosphere so Kuwabara could properly meditate was fully explained to Ami.


“Well… It won’t generate snow… ice maybe, fog for sure,” Ami sighed, a finger tapping against her lips. Looking apologetic she added, “I just… I don’t know if my powers can help you! Ice and water I can do but... I don't think I've made snow...”


Kuwabara smiled and placed a hand on Ami’s shoulder, “We have to try. You can do this. Ami, you’re a wonderful student and girl for that matter… don’t doubt your powers. You can do this.”


Ami’s cheeks flushed, and she looked from him to her friends. The girls smiled at her, and both Minako and Usagi flashed her two thumbs up. She let out a shaky breath and meekly whispered, “I just… I don’t know Mr. Kuwabara… I…”


Kuwabara put his arm around Ami, and in soft tones tried to comfort her and raise her mood. Their words were soft and unheard by everyone, only Kuwabara and Ami knew what they were saying.


“Are you afraid it won’t work?” Kuwabara asked gently.


Ami sighed. She was a genius, she had confidence in her brain, but when it came to her Scout abilities,… she doubted. Her power wasn’t as… aggressive as the other girl’s, not as powerful. And in soft tones, she relayed this to Kuwabara, “I just… I’m not that strong Mr. Kuwabara. I don’t know what I can do, or if I can really help.”


Kuwabara chuckled, not unkindly, at Ami’s concerns and softly whispered, “the only way you can’t help me, is by not trying. I’m not asking for power and strength, I’m asking for you to try. That’s how you’ll help me.”


Ami flushed, something heavy lifting from her shoulders and she nodded, “Okay Mr. Kuwabara. I’ll try. I can help.”

As Kuwabara and Ami continued to talk in low tones, their words private and soft, Hiei, Kurama, and Yusuke watched Kuwabara in an interested manner.

It was Hiei who said, "Kuwabara's good at this."

Kurama and Yusuke glanced at Hiei, waiting for him to continue.

With his red eyes locked on Kuwabara and Ami, Hiei added, "Teaching kids... teaching others. Kuwabara's surprisingly good at this. It suits him."

Kurama and Yusuke turned back to Kuwabara, and both smiled. 

"I can't help but agree," Kurama said, smiling at Kuwabara. "He's very good at understanding others, especially these young girls." Kurama's eyes drifted towards Makoto, the tall young girl not noticing his gaze. "It's something I need to learn. I have something I need to confess..."

"What is it?" Yusuke asked, shifting his eyes to Kurama, suddenly concerned about what Kurama had to reveal.

"Since we've come here and met these girls I've had these weird..." Kurama hesitated, trying to put the correct word to the vision he had had in the kitchen with Makoto.

"Memories," Hiei finished for him, his face grimmer, and his eyes now on Rei.

Yusuke looked at the two, the hairs on the back of his neck suddenly standing up, and his eyes shifted between the two, "What are you two saying?"

Before Yusuke could get an answer, Kuwabara's name was called out by a familiar voice. In shock, the group turned towards Rei's shrine steps, spotting two women with a bag slung over each shoulder. Shizuru and Yukina. Shizuru was still looking a little ragged and unwell, and Yukina was at her side supporting her. Yukina smiled at the group as she helped steady Shizuru.

"Sis!" Kuwabara cried his face momentarily flashing with joy as he took a few steps towards them.


Shizuru set her bags down and looked out at Kuwabara, concern etched into every line of her face. She took a step forward, eyes focused only on her brother, and then popped a few bones in her neck. The joy that was on Kuwabara's face, slowly fell into a look of panic as her brown eyes narrowed.


“Kazuma… we’re here to help,” Shizuru said, taking confident steps forward even after Kuwabara began to take nervous steps back, “But that’s after I kick your ass.”

 


End chap 18

 

Chapter Text

Koenma was drifting.

He was asleep and far, far away from his body. Far away from the body that was isolated in a room covered head to toe in strange glowing runes. He was unaware of the healers that worked near his body, chanting in a low heavy throated tongue as they slowly pieced together the demi-god’s busted skull. He did not feel the familiar hand of Genkai tilt his chin, or feel the sharp tingle of her spiritual wave course through his face. White droplets of blood, glowing like silver stars, were hanging in the air and slowly sinking back into Koenma’s head.

The healing was slow.

It would take days for Koenma to heal, for him to be aware, and return back to the present place of his body. 

However, while his consciousness was not in the present, it was in the past.

Sleepy and sluggish, his small body was actually that of a five-year-old, and not the toddler body he sometimes resided in. This was years ago when he was actually young, and he had just woken up in the embrace of an ogre, who had been something like a nanny for him. Sleepily, Koenma turned his face to the source of the noise and that had woken him.

His father, Enma was arguing with several people. His neck was tense, and his eyes bulging as he shouted and raved. He looked like an oversized toddler throwing one hell of a tantrum. If Koenma was not so afraid of his father, maybe he would have laughed.

“I can’t believe this! That… that Queen Serenity! Always a nuisance! Does she have any idea what it will mean to put that many souls within the realm of my territory?! In the stream of reincarnation?” Enma growled, sweeping his hands in a wide wave of motion. He growled and complained more, things that went over little Koenma's head, before finishing with a snarl of, “This is my jurisdiction, not hers!”

“Have more respect for the dead Enma, you sad sack of a vile existence!” A woman’s voice grated at Enma effectively silencing the man.

Koenma recognized this as the voice of his mother, a voice he hadn’t heard in hundreds of years. She had died sometime when he had been alive for thirteen human generations. The loss of his mother, a great and powerful force, seemed to have caused his father to spiral into his character faults, the traces of the fair ruler slipping away as he dealt with her loss. She was the stern voice that helped him see reason, even if she had to shame him to get there.

“She has died and used her most powerful weapon to not only keep it from enemy hands, but give several thousands of people a chance to reincarnate, and live well,” his mother was saying, disgusted with Enma’s complaints.

“Her jurisdiction is in space… I can’t interfere where she meddles in the place in the stars, but her and that crystal of hers have fast-tracked the reincarnation of more than one hundred humans, including the prince of Earth! The Earth Prince and his subjects are from my jurisdiction, and yet instead of letting me cast judgment, her Imperium Silver Crystal is forcing my hand in their fates! And I’m also expected to make room for the members of her moon kingdom and her court to live out new lives in my realm-”

“And you will do that!” Enma’s mother snapped, her fist slamming on the table. It cracked beneath her mighty wrath as she lectured her husband, “The good Queen Serenity, has died, not even an hour cold in the ruins of her castle, her children, and those people she loved---not even cold, and you act so high and mighty!

“Dear…”

“So callously!” Enma’s mother spat, her voice thunderous. Her feet fell like heavy stones on the floor, and Koenma was picked up in large hands, and cradled against a chest, ten times that of a human's. She pressed him tight to her, and little Koenma felt sleepy and safe despite his mother’s anger. His eyes slipped closed as his mother rounded on Enma and she snarled, “That woman gave up everything for her child, and for all those under her. Even for those that hurt her. You will find room for all those lives her imperium crystal touched! t’s not hard. Some will reincarnate on earth, and some in the demon world. Split the difference you great fool!”

She turned sharply away from Enma, carrying her son with her. Darkly she muttered, “I only hope that if our own child was lost someone would care for his soul if for whatever reason we could not! You can reflect on your selfish attitude alone tonight in our room! I will sleep with Koenma, and pray he won’t grow up as cold as you!”

“D-darling…” Enma simpered pathetically, but Koenma’s mother marched forward, and away.

“Koenma,” His mother whispered as he was falling back asleep, “Don’t grow up like your father. He is so concerned with rules and appearances that he’s not willing to help others! Koenma… care for others. Give people a chance, they’ll surprise you. Mortals are like that, especially the short lives of humans. Queen Serenity gave up a lot today to help those flickering beautiful lives. Be a good ruler when you grow up Koenma.”

Koenma was sleepy, and blinked his rapidly growing heavy eyes, “Queen Serenity?” He repeated the name he had heard his parents discuss.

“Be a good boy,” his mother’s voice whispered, “Grow up better than your parents.”

“Be a good boy,” his mother’s voice whispered in his heads, the same words that repeated tumbling hauntingly from his lips.

The chanting that echoed around the room halted for a moment, and Genkai’s eyes flickered down to Koenma’s face. Her spirit wave paused for half a heart-beat before it pulsed back to life. Glaring around at the other healers Genkai snapped, “What are you gawking around for? Get back to work!”

Koenma’s face did not stir as the people in the room renewed their efforts with a rush of increased vigor.

But Koenma didn’t know this, he was still far, far away…

 


 

“She’s truly a terror, you’re in for a treat,” Yusuke said with a measured sigh of respect.

He had flung an arm around Rei and Minako and pointed at Shizuru as she stalked towards her brother. Kuwabara was frozen in fear, shrinking as his sister marched towards him. 

"I'm... scared!" Usagi whimpered holding Luna tight.

"Don't worry she's not after you," Luna consoled, though her ears were pressed down in her own unsure fright.

“So… not just a teaching gig, was it Kazuma? You were on a secret undercover mission too, huh?” Shizuru seethed.

“Shi-sh-Shizuru… wait just one… ple-please-” Kuwabara held up his hands as he fumbled through his words. His throat felt dry, and he could feel his knees knocking with fright. It was as if he was a child again, or even a teenager. His sister's wrath was one thing that always whipped him into shape, and a cold knot in his stomach let him know she was about to do some whipping right now.

Shizuru was rolling up her sleeves with quick practiced movements, her eyes ablaze with anger. “Please? Please? Manners… I guess you still have them," Shizuru spit back sarcastically, "Have enough manners to call your sister and feed her information about working at a middle school if you even really did that! Or were you just here working for Koenma, and keeping us all out of the damn loop!”

His sister was worse than any demon.

“I can't believe, that you, Kazuma, don’t have enough decency to tell your sister, the one who largely raised you, that Koenma had spirited you away to work for him, again! And you conspired with him on how to keep everyone in the dark as you went to face God only knows what! Oh and went alone too! Huh! Can you imagine how... upset I am to know all this little brother?”

She was worse than any evil prince from space too!

Shizuru snatched her brother up by the front of his shirt, and in her rage hauled him off his feet, lifting him off the ground as she used to do when he was a teenager. Kuwabara had pulled both his lips into his mouth, sucking hard until his mouth was a thin panicked line. He was dead. For real this time.

“How dare you?” She hissed tears prickling at her eyes, “How dare you think I wouldn’t find out? That I too wouldn’t know about the dangers coming? Did you really forget you’re not the only clairvoyant in the family?” She lowered Kuwabara back to his feet and sucker punched her brother in the stomach.

“Ooo! Ouch!” Usagi and Chibi-Usa hissed at the same time.

“Should we… do something?” Ami voiced, her pitch and octave higher and incredibly nervous.

“Years of experience has taught me not to get in between Shizuru and her brother when she’s reprimanding him,” Kurama said, a small amused smile plastered on his face.

"This is a reprimand?" Mamoru whispered.

Kurama shrugged, merely smiling at Mamoru's confusion and concern.

Kuwabara was doubled over and coughing. Shizuru had both hands on his shoulders and was glaring at him hard, waiting for a response. Kuwabara who had been afraid had felt it leave him at his sister's pained expression. The guilt that he had felt when he first moved out here, returned tenfold.

“S-Shizuru,” Kuwabara finally managed, coughing as he struggled to right himself, “Shizuru I’m sorry. There’s no excuse.”

“There’s no taking back either,” Shizuru growled, and forced Kuwabara to stand up and look her in the eye. He was not shorter than her anymore, and she had to look up to meet his gaze. In her mind, she was still a young boy obsessed with heavy metal, honor codes, and kittens. Her little Kazuma no matter how he aged. She held his eye for a long moment, and then embraced him, “I can’t lose you. I can’t. You can’t just go off somewhere. What will I do? What would I do, if one day you go without telling me what you’re up to and never come back? Don’t keep me in the dark.”

Kuwabara wrapped his arms around his older sister, and held her tight, “I’m sorry. I’m very sorry.”

Yukina and Hiei had drifted next to each other as the Kuwabara siblings worked it out. Yukina had caught Hiei’s hand and fixed him with a sweet serene smile, that had caused the gentlest expressions to cross Hiei’s face. Yukina leaned towards Hiei to whisper in his ear. Hiei looked shocked, and a hundred different emotions flickered in his eyes. After a tense moment she drew away, and Hiei blinked, his shoulders relaxing as he began to accept whatever information she had given him.

Hiei held his sister’s hand, and smiled, saying nothing to whatever she had told him.

Yukina looked happy anyways, her smile had been enough.

When the siblings broke apart, Shizuru and Kuwabara walked arm and arm towards the others, the two whispering in low tones.

“What brings you here?” Kurama asked Yukina, who was closest.

“Shizuru has had a vision. She said you would need me, and that the world is in danger all over again,” Yukina seemed to finally notice the other unfamiliar faces and with an additional smile at them greeted, “Oh hello!”

Awkwardly, the sailor scouts and Mamoru waved, eyes fascinatingly staring at the teal haired woman.

"Demon?" Minako whispered, and Rei nodded.

"She's so... sweet looking," Makoto observed seeming surprised.

"Well if Kurama can be hot, then I'm sure there can be adorable sweet looking demons out there too," Minako reasoned. Artemis rolled his eyes from her shoulder.

“Kuwabara’s sister has abilities as well?” Rei asked, too shocked to ask for introductions.

“Always have,” Shizuru cut in, coughing a little. Kuwabara rubbed a hand on his sister’s back, seeming to sense that his sister wasn’t in tip-top shape. Shizuru shook her head and muttered, “Later little brother, later.”

Shizuru turned to look out at the array of people and held out her hand, “I’m Shizuru Kuwabara, older sister, hairstylist, and bigger, better, and badder clairvoyant between the two.” She shifted her thumb between her and Kuwabara, and he rolled his eyes to the heavens. She ignored them and looked smug.

Slipping a hand into her pockets, she pulled out a cigarette and began to try and light it. As she struggled she spoke, “But don’t ask me to do much beyond seeing the future. I can pack a big punch on the proper occasion, but I’m really only good at seeing things in the future and feeling out impending doom. So…” Her lighter roared to life, and the sizzle of her cigarette lighting was loud in the pause of her silence.

She took a long appreciative drag, speaking as she exhaled a puff of swirling smoke, “So, after Lyrae threw me through a house and broke almost every bone in my body---" She held up a hand over Kuwabara's mouth, stopping him from speaking before he could demand to know everything that happened with Lyrae when he attacked, "And while I was unconscious and being put back together I had a vision of all of you needing my brother. My brother, his friends, and all of you," She waved a hand at the girls who stood in continued awr of her, "stood against Lyrae together, and in my dreams everyone exploded into black grass, this whole city following suit.”

Several gasps echoed around Shizuru, and Yukina took Shizuru’s free hand, her face pinched with concern, “You never told me!” Yukina’s words trembled as she spoke, “Not a word…”

“I’ve been trying to wrap my head around everything I saw,” Shizuru admitted, “It was a lot. The dreams I have had while I’ve slept. Fallen kingdoms. A world being crushed by gravity. Twisting darkness destroying the sunshine of my brother’s face. A horse with wings and a golden horn. Mirrors, full of dreams breaking. Black hair stained with blood as red as his eyes. Blonde hair strewn on the floor with what was maybe broken glass. A castle rising from the earth, black and twisted dangerously. These dreams have been a real… nightmare.”

Shizuru took another drag, “All I know is, that I also saw Yukina standing over Kazuma, snow crowding the two of them. And that… helped somehow. That was the hope we needed.” She slid her eyes over everyone’s faces and shrugged, “Ominous I know. But I trust what I see. You need Yukina.”

Kuwabara licked his suddenly dry lips, “As it turns out… I… I do.”

He turned to look at Yukina, waiting for the small girl to meet his eye, “Yukina I need to…awaken some sort of memories inside me. And if I meditate in the snow I should be able to unlock them…”

“Snow I can do…well…” Yukina’s smile faltered, “Well the atmosphere isn’t quite… wet enough for me to get a good flurry going…”

“Uhm, I can help with that,” Ami piped up, gently touching the sleeve of Yukina’s kimono.

Yukina glanced at Ami, and her face lit up as she said, “Oh really! I’m Yukina, so nice to meet you! If you can help me, I really could use it!”

Yukina took Ami’s hands, approaching the schoolgirl with an eager smile. Ami smiled a little nervously back, glancing down at the girl’s hands, before back at her smiling face. “Well I’m… I’m Ami. I can create water, fog, and ice, so if I do those things-”

“Then I can make the snow Kazuma needs,” Yukina chirped happily, “Ami, this will be wonderful help!”

Kuwabara broke away from the group and pointed to the porch, “I’ll sit here and meditate. When you can cast the snow over me. That should be all I need from there,” Kuwabara began to tug off his shirt causing a few people to gawk.

“What are you doing?” Yusuke asked, Usagi’s mouth snapping shut since Yusuke had beat her to the punch.

“I don’t need my shirt. Honestly, I’m going to strip down as much as I feel comfortable. I don’t need the protection from the snow. I have a feeling if I get fully emmersed in it I'll really be able to make this work.”

“You’ll freeze!” Hiei snorted, eyes narrowed in aggressive confusion.

Kuwabara smiled at Hiei, and Kuwabara’s smile was so genuine and calm that Hiei’s anger slipped away.

“I really won’t,” Kuwabara said with a knowing nod. His smile drifted to everyone else and then stepped up to the porch tossing his shirt aside.

Kuwabara wound up stripping down to his boxers and sat calmly with his legs crossed, and his palms facing up in his lap. He was getting his breath under control, while Ami, now Sailor Mercury, talked to Yukina about her abilities, and what should be done next.

“I think if you aim your bubble spray attack at me, I can start pulling the water from the atmosphere and create snow. If I’m having a hard time, then perhaps you could try your Shine Aqua Illusion-” 

“This could really hurt you!” Sailor Mercury interrupted.

“No… I don’t think so. I mean this as no insult, but I sense that… I could manipulate what you throw at me. Water is very flexible, and I’m an ice maiden who had lived in my element for years. I think I can bend your abilities to my will, shape it for my needs,” Yukina explained her eyes calm.

A faint blue light seemed to glow from her body as she spoke, readying herself for what attack Sailor Mercury might throw.

“Trust me… I trust you,” Yukina said with a smile.

Sailor Mercury’s heart stuttered at the familiarity of the woman’s words. She felt for a moment she would lose herself in a fuzzy fog of memories… but shook it off. Sailor Mercury’s analytical mind overcame the nostalgic feelings Yukina was giving off and pushed aside a wiggling nagging emotion towards the back. There was no more time for discussion, logic dictated that time was running out, and it was time to act. Sailor Mercury took a deep breath, she would have to trust Yukina for now.

As if they had practiced this moment to perfection, Sailor Mercury fired a spray of bubbles at Yukina, who had positioned herself behind Kuwabara. Yukina held her hands out and accepted the attack, her eyes closed peacefully. A swirling fog hid Yukina and Kuwabara for just a moment before it cleared, and small white clusters fell above their heads.

“I can handle more Ami, please do another attack,” Yukina encouraged.

Yusuke watched Kuwabara’s face, staring fixedly at his peaceful expression, even as several large chunks of snow fell against the nape of his neck and melting in cold streams down his chest. Yusuke shuddered at the thought of the cold snow on bare skin. He looked over to Shizuru and found that instead of looking at her brother she was staring at Yukina, a soft expression swirling in her tired eyes.

“You going to be okay?” Yusuke asked her, keeping his voice low.

“After Lyrae attacked me I got some crazy fever… I’m not excellent, but I’m okay,” Shizuru answered, her lips moving around her cigarette. Her eyes slid to Yusuke, “I was severely injured as you'll remember... but I think the sudden wave of visions is what caused my fever. I feel like I got caught up in some powerful hold... I have a suspicion that if we can take out Lyrae, then my fevers will let up."

Yusuke frowned with concern, "I hope so. Kuwabara couldn't stand it if something happened to you. Me either."

Shizuru smiled appreciatively, "Really... once we get rid of this Lyrae guy... I think things will go back to normal. These visions are just... too much. Dizzying, and confusing. Normally I can sort them out, but there was… a lot of shit I just couldn’t work out. One thing is clear though, my brother is in trouble. Maybe all of us are. Well... what am I saying, the whole world is in trouble. This, however,” she took her cigarette and gestured to Yukina, “This is supposed to help. My girl’s going to help Kazu… we’ll get through this.”

Yusuke titled his head at her, “Your girl?”

Shizuru kept her gaze on Yukina, “Mine.” She placed a hand to her heart and kept it the for a long moment.

Yusuke stared uncomprehendingly for a moment until like a slap, it hit him.

“You and Yukina?!” he hissed.

“Yes,” Shizuru breathed, removing the last bit of her cigarette from her lips before flicking it to the ground and grinding it out with her boot, “Yes.”

“But… but Kuwabara! Kuwabara… and Yukina…” Yusuke tried to make an argument for Kuwabara and Yukina’s sake, knowing his point had no legs to stand on.

Shizuru reached and took Yusuke’s shoulder, and looked Yusuke in the eye until he was silent. She held his gaze and then smiled, “Kazuma… and you. Right?” She tilted her head, her eyes lowering in a speculative patient glance. Yusuke felt a heat flood his cheeks, and an unexpected fear made him look away. Her finger appeared in front of his face, and he blinked at it, before following it back to Shizuru’s unexpectedly understanding gaze. “Kazuma and you.”

Yusuke swallowed hard, “Kuwabara… and me.”

“You have my blessing. Just go for it. I’m not going to judge your timing… I waited too damn long myself,” Shizuru whispered, smiling at Yusuke one last time before she turned her gaze to look at Yukina.

Yusuke slowly turned back to stare at Kuwabara, who remained remarkably still. He looked calm as the snow piled on top of his body, and clustered around his eyelashes. Yusuke swallowed again lest he scream out his affection for Kuwabara right at that moment. As he watched a golden orange light began to outline Kuwabara’s body. Several gasps went up, and Yusuke thought he heard Usagi say something, but Yusuke was too focused on Kuwabara. He couldn't look away now.

Kuwabara opened his eyes, but only glowing orange orbs shined out through his gaze.

Kuwabara was far, far, away now…

 


 

“Count backwards,” Queen Serenity’s voice rippled through his mind. 

 


 

Kuwabara stood dubiously next to Yusuke, staring at two short figures in front of him. He was fourteen years old, and on his second spirit detective mission (the first mission he was consciously aware of) and meeting two new people that would help change his life forever. He just didn't know it yet.

“Hey, Kuwabara! Let me introduce you to these guys,” Yusuke was saying casually as if these two people hadn’t just saved their lives from the horde of demons that had been attacking them.

“That’s Hiei,” Yusuke’s voice rang out, laden with a slightly annoyed yet respectful tone. Yusuke’s voice shifted to something light and cheerful as he switched to speaking about the next person, “and his name is Kurama!”

Hiei was short and kind of baby faced. He was glaring up at Kuwabara, looking like an underclassman who wanted to rumble. Kurama was a little shorter than Kuwabara, and his school uniform spoke of money. He greeted Kuwabara warmly enough, but something about him still felt dangerous, just as dangerous as the little guy.

Kuwabara shifted a little uncomfortably. Weirdly intimidated by this duo’s presence, but also… elated. His throat felt tight, and a deep longing was suffocating him. It made him uncomfortable in a way he had never felt before. To his horror, he felt even the sting of tears prickling his eyes.

He was very grateful when he was able to hide his sudden unexplained overjoyed heart by picking a fight (the first of many) with Hiei.

Luckily for him, as they battled their way through Maze castle, Kuwabara was too distracted to be disturbed by these overwhelming feelings again. They got pushed to the wayside and forgotten.

He was not stung with the overwhelming feelings of joy and familiarity again, not until the day he saw Yukina’s face on an old VHS tape. Her face had been a puzzle piece he had been missing, and the sight of her filled him up with that old familiar bittersweet sting. Something caught between love and sorrow. Kuwabara didn't know it yet, but something inside of him, at last, felt he was home.

 


 

“Count backwards, until you’ve found the place you must go.”

 


 

Kazuma Kuwabara’s name was Gou Kuwabara.

He had been an abandoned child and blessed with many natural gifts. It was thanks to these gifts that he had been taken into a shrine that focused on awakening his spiritual talents, for the benefit of the Japanese people.

He was seventeen years old, and a gut feeling told him he would die today. A woman along with her daughter had arrived at the shrine a short time ago. The woman was begging for help. A violent spirit was after her child, a small girl, and she wanted the monks to save them. The woman was shunned, as it was said her ancestor had laid with a demon, and the child was a devil’s child. No one at the woman's village, nor at the shrine would risk themselves to help the woman and her child.

Gou had looked into the face of the small little girl and felt something familiar. Like that he was supposed to know this girl and her brown eyes. That is she was older, he would recognize something in her, that would awaken something in himself.

He could not sit still and let this child and her mother come to ruin.

He did everything he was supposed to do. He meditated in the pure waters dripping from the holy falls outside his shrine. He prepared over one hundred cleansing tags and took a healthy branch from a sacred Sakura tree. Gou was as ready as he would be, but gut instinct told him it would cost everything to help the child.

A fox demon, that carried a strange child in a pile of bandages, mocked Gou as he worked.

“You’re going to die human. This spirit is too strong for you,” The fox chuckled, holding up a red-eyed baby to look at the monk, “Look with your red eyes boy, this is what a fool looks like.”

For some reason, the cruel fox demon and the demonic baby brought him as much comfort as the little girl he was trying to save. He smiled sadly at the pair, and something deep in him was filled with regret. The fox demon stared down at Gou, and an expression of confusion flooded his face. Anger even. The white-haired fox snarled suddenly, "Is your life so little that you're going to throw it away? If it's worth so little... come over here. Play with me and my little friend, and live a while longer."

Gou wasn't sure what the fox demon meant, and he had a feeling the demon didn't know himself. There was a hidden kindness in the fox's words and for that, Gou was grateful. He felt, that he only had one regret. There was one more person he had wanted to meet this lifetime, but he hadn’t met them yet.

He turned away from the demons who mocked him and headed for his destination. Death at the hands of a malevolent spirit, to save a little girl. He would die for that little girl, he was more than willing.

 


 

“Start with ten… and make it down to one,” Queen Serenity’s words tickled the back of Kuwabara’s mind.

 


 

Kazuma Kuwabara was dying, and he was not a he.

Her name was Sen, a name she chose for herself when she heard a group of boys talking as they went to school. She had been born with no one to name her or to look after her, but she wanted a name. So when she heard one she liked, she took it for herself.

The world was harsh, especially for an orphaned nobody. The village was starving, wars had damaged the land as well as the crops. Meat was hard to come by, the local lord taking all the kills for himself. Everyone was starving.

She had found a small baby white fox, and nursed it back to health. She had been caring for the kit alone until a local boy, Shoyu Urameshi found out about it. But he kept it secret for her, with her. Shoyu was a boy she'd always like, and it was a great comfort that he would not betray her new furry friend. Sen’s small world of comfort expanded when old Hame also began to acknowledge her. He was gruff and acted like he didn’t like her, but he offered her fish from his line and never made a comment about Sen caring for a fox when the village was so destitute. His sister, Yukiko, who was as gentle as a doe, often even offered advice on how to care for a wild animal.

Sen’s small world had been filled with such joy and close people for a small wonderful amount of time. And when Shoyu had kissed her, Sen felt everything was right with the world. She could see a much happier future laid out waiting for her, piercing the darkness and cruelty that had once surrounded her.

That happy little world was not meant to last.

The fox licked a tear from her face as it slid down her cheek.

“Go little one,” Sen croaked, as the sound of clashing samurai roared around her. She coughed, blood spilling past her lips, “Go.”

The fox chirped and with fur bristling with reluctance hopped away from her. He leaped over the body of Shoyu, with a spear dug in through his ribs, keeping him pinned to the ground. He dashed past the old crumpled bodies of Hame and Yukiko, and with a tilt of his head, the fox and Sen had one last look.

Sen stretched her fingers, and took Shoyu’s hand in her own, the effort on her part making her fading world go dimmer.

The fox let out a mournful wail and winked into the foliage of the forest that surrounded Sen's village. Sen smiled weakly, one last time. At least one of her friends had made it.

For a small wonderful moment, her world had been filled with everyone she loved and everyone she had ever needed or wanted. And that was enough in her twelve short years of life.

 


 

“And when you reach one.”

 


 

Kazuma Kuwabara was someone new again, (or was it someone old?) and he was not dying today.

His name was Eikichi Amano, and he was forty years old. He and his friends were fighting to free their people. Had been fighting for ten long years. Now at the finish line, with the dawn about to break on a new day, it felt like he was going to fall short at the finish line.

A hand took his, and his eyes fluttered open through the pain.

Yusuke Hanzou, the best archer that there would ever be, was holding his hand. His long scarred over and calloused fingers gripped Eikichi’s in practiced ease. The pair met eyes, and Eikichi whispered, “My heart,” to Yusuke in greeting.

Unabashedly, Yusuke leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Eikichi’s sweaty brow, long dark brown hair obscuring his vision for a moment.

“Hanzou,” the familiar voice of Hata Minamino, or “the fox,” as known by his friends, spoke up, “The men have taken the Lord’s house. Lord Arashi is caught… we’ve won!” Hata was grinning, his tired eyes dancing with relief, even as they flickered with concern at Eikichi’s state.

A smaller man at Hata’s side appeared, he was known by one name, Akuma. He hardly spoke, the traumas of his hard life taking away most of his words. He used hand signals and grunts largely to communicate, but today a grim smile was on his face, and in a rusty voice he spoke, “The men want their leader, they want Yusuke Hanzou to deliver Lord Arashi’s death blow.”

Yusuke looked uncertain and squeezed Eikichi’s hand, "I don't want to leave..."

“Go,” a soft voice, the voice of Hime, Akuma’s younger sister, whispered from Eikichi’s left. She was packing fresh snow around Eikichi’s wound. She claimed that it slowed the bleeding, giving her time to work and keep Eikichi alive. She smiled at Eikichi, and then at Yusuke, “Go. He’ll live. I promise… Eikichi will live.”

Eikichi met Yusuke’s eyes and he smiled, “I’m going to die next to you, old and withered like a plum left out too long, with you looking the same. Today isn’t the day I die.”

Yusuke Hanzou surged forward and kissed Eikichi Amano hard on the lips, his calloused thumbs pressing into Eikichi’s cheeks. And Eikichi was right. Today was not the day he would die. It was instead the day, something new had begun.

 


 

 

“You’ll be back where you need to begin.”

 


 

 

Kazuma Kuwabara was at last, Epsilon.

He opened his eyes and stood next to himself. Or the self he was over a millennium ago. Kuwabara circled Epsilon, taking in the features of Epsilon’s familiar but different face. Epsilon was wrapped in colors of the sunset, his bare skin and bare feet still blindingly pale for all the sun it must have seen. A golden orange star stretched out between his pectorals and down towards his navel. Epsilon's skin was unblemished, and Kuwabara noted that this version of himself seemed young, a person frozen in time. It was strange to see the young features considering that Kuwabara knew Epsilon to be many hundreds of years old, at the very least.

"So, you're me huh?" Kuwabara murmured, "You could stand to put more clothes on..."

At last, Kuwabara had made it all the way back to his first life. He could learn now and unlock the chains from his dream mirror, that would free his memories… and hopefully, lead him and all his friends to salvation.

Kuwabara took in a breath and looked around the room. It was dark, all around, but Kuwabara could feel that there were two diverging paths in the space of the room and that he needed to choose. Kuwabara looked back at Epsilon and saw his hands were outstretched, and in each hand, he held an item. In his left was something glowing and powerful, a weapon that Kuwabara couldn't quite make out. In the right were a few dried flower petals and a small pile of white grained sand.

“A story,” Kuwabara whispered to himself, as a gentle understanding embraced him.

In Epsilon’s right hand was the pieces Kuwabara needed to remember his past and find his court. He wasn’t sure what sand and flowers petals had to do with helping him remember, or why he wasn’t eager to grab the weapon in Epsilon’s other hand. The Queen had said for him to unlock his memories, but that weapon... that would stop Lyrae, right?

He looked back at the weapon in the left hand. Even after long minutes of squinting he couldn't quite figure out what it was. Was that what they needed to fix everything to stop Lyrae? A new power? Didn’t he just need his memories to find this weapon? Rei had said something like that. But the Queen, she had said he needed to remember and find his court…

“I need my court. I need my memories. What good is a weapon if you don’t know how to use it?” Kuwabara whispered to himself.

He reached out and took Epsilon’s right hand, petals and sand sliding between their fingers.

Like throwing a heavy blanket around his shoulders, memories slowly coursed through Kuwabara. The memories came not at the dizzying pace his dreams presented but calmly. In a way, he could understand. He could see the life that had once been his.

A prince born to happy parents, with a troubling elder brother. Kuwabara, was Epsilon, with a planet that had many raging winter storms and red flowers like fire. He loved the cold snows of the winter and purple sands of the summer. He and his family were immune to the cold, the energy coursing through their body kept them warm. His mother used to say they were made up of stars. Stars coursed through their blood, and their heat thrived with the cold snow. Epsilon could hear his father's voice agreeing, laughing as he ruffled Epsilon's hair. Epsilon loved his family… even Lyrae who wanted too much.

And Lyrae who wanted too much-destroyed their home destroyed their kingdom and its people. Only a few survived. Epsilon placed a hand to his chest, his heart thundering as he remembered the few surviving members of his court. Yukina, soft-hearted with gentle hands and a wealth of knowledge was considered a “white witch,” by his people. A good and powerful figure who had knowledge to share, and the power over snow and winds. This was a blessing to the people that lad lived on the Epsilon Lyrae stars, and Epsilon was grateful to have her as his teacher. She taught him many things about nature, and how to listen to your heart.

Kurama sprang to his mind next. Kurama, who dressed in rich greens and brown earthy tones, and he carried himself in a way that was different than his people. Kurama was not originally from the Epsilon Lyrae stars, he had traveled from another star system to serve as an adviser for the next king. He had been meant to teach Lyrae, but Lyrae dismissed Kurama on sight. He mistook Kurama’s beautiful features as a sign of ineptness, but Epsilon, only five, looked at Kurama and held out his hand. Epsilon knew Kurama was the adviser he needed. Kurama had taken Epsilon’s hand and promised to never let go.

Hiei was next in his mind. Hiei dressed in dark black furs and would smear a black natural paint over his eyes. Armor, he hardly ever wore, with red chipped gems in the shape of Epsilon’s family sigil about the breast. Hiei commanded Epsilon’s armies and served as a secret assassin for if Epsilon ever needed. Epsilon had never thought to need such a task but had a feeling Hiei quietly worked in the shadows, keeping Epsilon safe. Epsilon was forever grateful for his silent, and deadly comrade, even if Hiei had several sharp words to dole out. 

Yusuke.

Kuwabara’s heart that was now Epsilon’s roared to life.

Yusuke was everything. Yusuke was the man he had grown up admiring. Was the family’s personal royal knight. He oversaw everything in the castle, his main duty being to the King and Queen. And although one day he was supposed to go to Lyrae, and care for him, it was clear Epsilon Yusuke’s favorite. He doted on Epsilon and encouraged Epsilon to learn to take care of himself; learn how to fight. Epsilon did not grow up soft handed and pampered as other royal families might, under Yusuke’s tutelage he became someone who could fight and enjoyed doing do.

Yusuke did wind up becoming Lyrae’s knight, but only in name. In reality, Yusuke did everything he could to distract Lyrae from Epsilon, the target of his lust. Yusuke stayed at Lyrae’s side until it was clear Yusuke could protect Epsilon better by joining him. Epsilon was a teen when Yusuke returned to him, and his adoration and friendship shifted into a hopeless love. A love that Epsilon didn’t dare acknowledge until they were all living together on the white sands of the moon, under Queen Serenity’s rule.

They spend many happy days together; they even welcomed the birth of little Princess Serenity together. It had been a happy ideallic life until...

Epsilon’s eyes snapped open and he was laying in a large bed. The high domed ceiling above him was white, with soft hues of gold trimming intricate details into the white pastel hues. Epsilon and Kuwabara were one, and Kuwabara tucked into the corner’s of Epsilon’s mind knowing exactly what was happening and where they were. They were on the moon kingdom, on the last day Epsilon and the silver millennium’s residents would be alive.

Kuwabara settled into the body of his first life; it seemed Epsilon’s death was the last thing he needed to learn.

 

End of chapter 19

Chapter Text

It was strange.

This felt like Kuwabara’s body—he felt like himself. It felt like he had just woken up, and for a moment, Kuwabara wouldn’t have noticed any difference from an everyday morning. But as Kuwabara thought that he should take in more of his new surroundings his body would not move.

Epsilon remained in bed, slowly blinking awake, content to start his day off slow. He rolled on his side, a swath of long orange hair spilling over his bare shoulder and around his neck.

‘Ah… so I’m just a witness in all this. No control…’ Kuwabara thought. It was strange to be just a thought in his own body. A voice in his own head he supposed? 'Odd...really really odd...'

There was a noise to Epsilon’s left, and finally, the man sat up, albeit a bit groggily. There was a pleasant dull ache in his body, that Kuwabara also seemed to feel, but was unsure what it could be from. Epsilon stretched and the ache spread through his hips and lower back, but Epsilon seemed non-plussed by this slight ache, so Kuwabara ignored it. Epsilon turned towards the source of the sound, focusing on a smaller open room just diagonal of the bed. There were no doors, but thick layers of curtains that filled up the door frame of the smaller room. Epsilon watched the curtains until he saw them move, and the sounds of murmuring, along with footsteps could be heard.

Someone was in there.

Epsilon stretched, a smile gracing his lips as he rose to his feet. Not bothering with a robe that was tossed on a large chair, Epsilon strode around his bed, stopping at a mirror.

At this Kuwabara got to see himself, as Epsilon, for the first time.

Despite knowing that he was Epsilon, that they were one and the same, Kuwabara was still surprised to see his own face. That was his eyes, that was his nose, his mouth, his strong chin, his strong cheekbones… they were one and the same. There were small differences... maybe. Kuwabara wasn't sure, but Epsilon seemed a little younger than Kuwabara's current age. Epsilon looked maybe to be in his late teens, though Kuwabara knew that wasn't true. By now Epsilon was in his hundreds. Kuwabara's eyes danced over the face once more, trying to find other small differences on Epsilon's face. But he saw none until...

‘Ugh! Is that a rattail? UGh! Or is that a mullet?!' Kuwabara thought as his eyes fell on Epsilon’s hair.

Epsilon had, essentially, a mohawk, with his hair shaved short to the sides, and cascading down his back, was a long plait of hair that Epsilon was currently finger combing. Epsilon glanced around the room before finding a small white ribbon and tied off his hair at the base, sporting what Kuwabara knew (thanks to his hairdresser sister’s man long rants) to be a rat tail styled haircut.

‘Shizuru would die if she saw this,’ Kuwabara thought, unimpressed with his past life’s choice of hairstyle.

Tearing his eyes away from the hair, Kuwabara took in the rest of his reflection.

A large strange mark was on his chest and a large portion of his torso. It appeared to be a bright golden orange, eight-pointed star. The starting point of the star extended between Epsilon’s pectorals and finished in a downward’s point just above his navel.

Instantly, Kuwabara recognized this as his family’s sigil. As the crescent moon represented the moon kingdom, this eight-pointed star represented the Epsilon Lyrae stars. The eight points a representation of two blended stars overlapping. If Kuwabara could have controlled the body he was in he would have shaken his head at the amazing sensation of having old memories flicker into his mind. 

Kuwabara would have taken in this strange marking more, but once Epsilon had finished with his hair he was pushing past the heavy curtains, making his way into a bathroom. Inside, rubbing a towel over his damp face, was Yusuke.

‘Urameshi?!’ Kuwabara thought with surprise. ‘But no… that’s… no this is the other Yusuke. The knight.’

The former knight of Epsilon Lyrae finished drying his face, and turned, smiling a half cocky grin at Epsilon. His eyes were the same rich brown, and his height was the same as Kuwabara remembered. Many things were the same. As Epsilon was an almost mirror image, this Yusuke was also almost an identical copy of Kuwabara’s best friend.

As Epsilon raked his eyes appreciatively over the half-dressed man’s body, Kuwabara noted that this Yusuke seemed to have more scars than the Yusuke of Kuwabara’s time. There were small differences. Very small differences. This Yusuke was older, and it showed in the slight crinkle near his eyes, in the speckles of white on the scruff of his chin that the knight was currently shaving off. This Yusuke may have been a little taller as well, but Epsilon and Kuwabara were both still vastly taller than him.

This made Kuwabara feel slightly smug for some reason.

Epsilon’s hand reached out, his thumb rubbing over a thick slightly raised scar at Yusuke’s shoulder. Epsilon caressed the mark a moment longer before Yusuke caught Epsilon’s wrist and tugged him close.

“What are you doing my Lord? Embrace me already!” Yusuke chuckled, pulling Epsilon’s arms around him. Yusuke then settled into Epsilon’s arms, his back flush with Epsilon’s chest, and his head tucked under the taller man’s chin. Epsilon tilted his head down, pressing a kiss to the top of Yusuke’s head, before nuzzling his nose into Yusuke’s hair. Epsilon took a slow contented breath.

‘Grass. Rain. Metal. Sweat. Leather… Yusuke’s scent,’ Kuwabara thought, amazed the Epsilon’s heartbeat could be so calm. Even as just a thought Kuwabara felt his feelings would run away from him. Or that he was going to die of embarrassment as he was a voyeur of his past self intermingling with Yusuke’s past self in such a clearly intimate way. Kuwabara would be lying if he didn’t feel a bit like a pervert…

The pair held each other for a heavy stretch of time, before Yusuke sighed, “I wish there wasn’t a masquerade tonight. The knights will be so concerned with the party and its attendees, the aggressors from Earth could use this time to attack.”

“Queen Serenity knows this… but the tensions of the people in her kingdom are high. War is imminent, despite all of the peace talks. The distraction will be good for the people, and she hopes that the gesture of a party will show our kingdom's peacefulness.” Epsilon reasoned, his eyes closed as he held the knight closer.

“Pah! She coddles the people… the cold truth is we’re in danger. A party is not how we should deal with these tensions!” Yusuke snorted, his hands tightening on Epsilon’s arms.

“Well. She also has her daughter to worry about. The princess is hopelessly in love with the Earth’s prince… and what would have been a celebrated union before, is now forbidden,” Epsilon sighed, his eyes opening slowly, and mouth tilting downwards into a frown.

“…It’s unfair that those two kids are suffering due to their people’s animosity. I wish we could put our finger on what started this all,” Yusuke sighed, voice low with frustration.

"Nasty rumors were the beginning, but if we could just... have the people of Earth see that we only want peace between our planets..." Epsilon sighed, squeezing Yusuke for a moment.

"They see us as weak! The Queen should use that crystal of hers to show we won't be taken down lightly!" Yusuke snapped, an edge to his tone.

The pair held each other frowns stretching on their faces as their eyes met in the bathroom mirror. Kuwabara could feel Epsilon's disappointment. He didn't want to have an argument with Yusuke... it seemed the tension between the Moon and Earth had caused a few arguments between the Knight and his Prince. Yusuke thought the Queen was behaving to lax, and Epsilon thought the Queen was just trying to show good faith.

Yusuke didn't seem to be in the mood for another fight this morning either. He broke from Epsilon’s embrace and picked up his much taller lover, hoisting the man off the ground. As Epsilon sputtered and gasped, Yusuke pressed his lips to the man’s peck, and blew hard against it. A crude sound erupted from the childish act, and the vibrating sensation accompanied by the noise caused Epsilon to laugh loudly, and squirm.

“Quit it!” Epsilon laughed, pushed at Yusuke’s head, his smile radiant on his face.

Yusuke grinned cheekily up at the man, and carried him back to the bed, before toppling them both over onto the lush and large bed. For several minutes, the pair wrestled, both digging fingers and elbows into their ribs trying to produce laughter. After Yusuke managed to straddle Epsilon successfully, Yusuke slid his hands to Epsilon’s wrist and pinned his arms above his head. Yusuke dug his knees into Epsilon’s sides, grinning as the taller man couldn’t arch away from his hold.

Blowing a few strands from his face, Epsilon sighed, “Alright. You got me! Now what?”

Yusuke pressed a kiss to Epsilon’s mouth. Firm, hungry, and well-practiced. A shudder ran through Epsilon’s body, and he parted his lips expectantly. Yusuke rewarded the prince’s boldness with an eager swipe of his tongue as he pulled the man into an intense kiss.

Kuwabara was relieved Epsilon had closed his eyes, but Kuwabara could feel everything Epsilon was feeling. He could feel Yusuke’s rough hands sliding to weave their hands together. He could feel the warm skin burning into his own goose-bumping flesh. He could taste the slightly minty breath of the knight who invaded his mouth with confidant ease.

It was what Kuwabara wished for, and it pained him greatly that this was his past life’s experience and not his own.

This was not Kuwabara’s Yusuke, but oh… he wished it were.

Yusuke finally broke for air, and Epsilon was gasping, his heart racing in his chest. Through heavy-lidded eyes he gazed at Yusuke and pressed a few softer kisses to the corner of his lover’s mouth.

“Epsilon… I would stay in bed with you all day if I could…” Yusuke sighed.

“…But duty calls. No matter how tempting you are,” Epsilon agreed.

Yusuke pouted,” You tempted me first!”

“I wasn’t the one who threw me to the bed and went in for a kiss, was I?” Epsilon cheekily returned.

Yusuke snorted and shut Epsilon up with one more hard breathtaking kiss. He ended their moment with a sharp bite of Epsilon’s lower lip, which produced a moan that fizzled out into a growl of need from the prince.

Yusuke chuckled, pleased at having riled the younger man up, before he rolled off the bed and slapped Epsilon’s leg, “Get dressed. Busy day today before the night’s festivities.”

Epsilon watched Yusuke dress rather than hurry off to get dressed, he would much rather enjoy the show. Kuwabara could feel the contented, sly laziness about Epsilon's attitude as he lounged around. When Yusuke had finished dressing in plain clothes, he pulled forth a set of armor from another small room next to the bathroom. As he began to strap a dull, but well cared for breastplate against his chest, Yusuke frowned at Epsilon, “Come on you brat! Get dressed!”

Epsilon smiled cheekily, and Yusuke picked up a pillow tossing it at Epsilon, hitting him square in the face.

‘I seem so carefree in the past. Urameshi seems a bit more mature… I guess not everything is identical,’ Kuwabara couldn’t help but think.

Yusuke finished dressing and stroked a gentle hand down Epsilon's face before he left, the Prince lounging in bed for a long time.

Epsilon did eventually get dressed, but the morning had long since passed. He wore an outfit Kuwabara usually saw this version of himself in. Epsilon draped himself in a cloak that had the colors of a fading sunset. His cloak was pinned with a black clasp shaped like the eight-pointed star that stretched on his chest. What was more or less a loincloth was draped around his hips, small gems tethering the pieces of fabric together at his hips. With practiced ease, Epsilon wove a strange piece of fur through the neck of his cloak so that it flared out around his shoulders and behind his neck. A braided golden chord was then pinned to the front of his cloak with a crescent moon pendant.

Kuwabara could somehow recall that these small trinkets affixed to Epsilon’s body denoted his status, and was a callback to the home Epsilon had lost long ago.

Observing quietly, as he had no other choice, Kuwabara watched as Epsilon went throughout the day. It was no surprise to see the similarities between himself and Epsilon, they were one and the same. However, Kuwabara was surprised by the small differences he saw. The seriousness Epsilon had when giving a command. Courtly etiquette that had been sternly beaten into Epsilon until he mastered it with perfection. A slightly wilder way of moving, a bit more confident, and a bit more animalistic. Epsilon also seemed to fluctuate between a patient and wise adviser, to a goofy and trouble making upstart.

It seemed there was a freer side to Epsilon’s personality that reminded Kuwabara of when he was in middle school and had led his gang. And while Epsilon liked to indulge in this side of himself from time to time, he often shelved this carefree attitude to handle many responsibilities of the day.

“Epsilon!” Luna’s voice called out towards the lumbering man, sometime late in the afternoon, “Epsilon! Master Epsilon!”

Epsilon turned, pausing in his stride to smile at the dark cat that was hurrying over to him.

“Luna… what can I do for you?” Epsilon asked, hunching low, and extending a palm.

Luna jumped into the hand, racing up his arm to nuzzle her cheek against Epsilon’s face.

Kuwabara was struck with a sudden memory as Epsilon greeted the feline. Epsilon had been the one to create Luna and Artemis. He had made them for the Queen so that her scouts, and Serenity would have guides throughout their lifetime. Guides that could create tools and weapons from seemingly thin air, much like Epsilon himself did.

‘How does he… how do I do it? How do I make those animals and those other items?’ Kuwabara wondered. He could look back into his and Epsilon’s memories, and only recall forming something in his hand, that would allow him to reach into… something. And then Epsilon would fold many layers of light, like thin bright threads, over and over, end on end, until he had a weave of something… strong and new. Epsilon would pull… and something was made.

If Kuwabara thought further, he could hear a feminine voice whispering, “You’ve been very polite… you didn’t take anything. You asked. I think I can trust you… So will you keep it a secret?”

It wasn’t Queen Serenity’s voice like Kuwabara might have thought, but a much smaller voice. A voice Epsilon had heard as a boy, someone Epsilon had made a promise to. And it seemed this memory was proving the most difficult one to recall. This voice and the light Kuwabara could vaguely make out in his memories were the key to the weapon he and his friends needed to defeat Lyrae. Kuwabara was sure of that.

He just had no idea how to recall everything he needed to see.

“Master Epsilon,” Luna sighed, her tail twitching with irritation, “You have given Artemis the ability to create items Sailor Venus and her scouts might need when facing the enemy!”

“Yes, I have… and please Luna. Just Epsilon. You, Artemis, and I… serve the Queen and Princess,” Epsilon tutted, a thumb affectionately rubbing Luna’s forehead, “I am not your Master.”

Luna seemed to disregard Epsilon’s words as she continued on, “I want to also be able to do those things for Serenity if the time should ever come! I can create her trinkets, things she may like… I want to do more. I want to be like Artemis, and create things she might need! Especially in times of danger… especially…”

“Because of the danger our Moon Kingdom could be in,” Epsilon finished for Luna his eyes looking far off. Epsilon sighed, stroking a full hand over Luna’s back, “I can do this change… but it will be… a bit unpleasant. It’s almost as if… I am unmaking a part of you. It will not be a pleasant experience, even if I manage to do it quickly.”

“Lord Epsilon, I understand. But I can’t just be something that Princess Serenity loves. I must also be useful!” Luna persisted.

“Luna your wise council is more than useful enough for the Princess. Your friendship is more than useful! You are useful!” Epsilon sighed and tilted Luna’s face over in his hands, a creator admiring their work. “But I will do this thing for you, and hope that there will never need to be a time when the little Princess requires such tools from you. It would be nice if you could just remain the Luna that makes her smile, and scolds her when she is being bad.”

Epsilon let Luna slip into the crook of his arm, and tipped her onto her back, “This will only take a second Luna… but as I warned Artemis it may be painful. Are you sure?”

Luna nodded her head, and Epsilon closed his eyes slowly.

Everything was dark.

‘Great… am I only going to see the inside of my own eyelids now?’ Kuwabara wondered with frustrated impatience.

After a moment, things changed. The darkness was slowly lit up by thin lines that made up the framework of everything that surrounded Epsilon. Kuwabara recognized what he was seeing. Kuwabara had learned to cast a wide net of his power to mislead those that would try to hunt him down and hurt him. It was his own energy that misdirected and confused those that would try to find him. What he was seeing now was similar to that. But the energy was not coming from himself but from all the objects around him.

Epsilon could sense the threads that made up the universe, and perhaps, he could reshape them too.

Overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the technique, Kuwabara could only let his mouth hang open as Epsilon worked at plucking out these thin lines of energy and adjusted them to what he needed, and all with his eyes closed.

Epsilon was holding what must have been Luna, the thin purple lines that made up her body, looked to him as if it was a wire framework of her form as if she was a wire sculpture. Epsilon pushed at a few strands of the purple lines, pushed until they were spread and did not move. Epsilon reached in and pulled a small pinprick of light out.

He opened his eyes.

Luna was a shadow in Epsilon’s arm, and in his hand, he held a small diamond-shaped gem that appeared to be glowing.

The name ‘Star Seed,’ suddenly flooded Kuwabara’s mind.

Epsilon brought the strange diamond to his lips and whispered to it. Kuwabara was staring at this strange object that had been plucked from Luna so hard, he missed what was said. With the same hand, Epsilon pulled a thin string of orange energy from himself and pressed it into the crystal.

The Star Seed shimmered for a moment, it’s purple hue changing a second, before returning back to its soft violet hum. Epsilon nodded and pressed the item into the chest of the shadow that made up Luna. When he withdrew his hand, the cat resolidified and took in a pained gasp of air.

“Luna… Luna, it’s done,” Epsilon whispered, slowly lowering the cat to the ground, laying her floppy body on the floor. “You must try to stand, and see if it worked.”

Luna lay on the floor for a long stretch of time, chest heaving as if she had been through some great ordeal. Epsilon stood a tense silent guardian over Luna, a frown etched hard into his face. Eventually, Luna raised her upper body, and with a bit of a struggle, the cat was on all fours, her tail twitching up as she tried to regain her balance. It took another minute before the cat seemed to shake off the strange mood and then shook her face back and forth as if trying to clear something from her vision.

“Do you feel like you know what to do?” Epsilon asked patiently.

“Yes… yes I know,” Luna said, her voice filled with wonder.

“Then show me,” Epsilon instructed with a smile.

Luna took a couple of steps forward and then leaped into the air, spinning end over end for an extended moment. She dropped to the ground and along with her, a small golden brooch with a red, blue, green, and yellow gemstone at four equal points along the main surface. Epsilon smiled and leaned down to pluck it up. He turned the item over in his hand and nodded, “You’ve done it. A transformation pendant. The Princess, if necessary will be able to use this in the future. Well done, Luna.”

Luna purred in response, “Thank you Master Epsilon!”

Epsilon pressed the item to Luna’s brow and it faded away, disappearing in all likelihood within Luna.

“Protect our Princess well, Luna,” Epsilon said, smiling with great pride at the small cat. "And just Epsilon... please!"

Luna let out a happy chittering noise and rubbed up against Epsilon’s leg before she darted away. Epsilon smiled, feeling at peace with himself, even if giving Luna these new abilities brought about an ominous feeling.

“Hmmm… I should find Yukina. I could stand to meditate for a while…” Epsilon mused softly to himself.

His bare feet slapping lightly on the ground, Epsilon spun and began to search out his teacher. Epsilon had opened his awareness to that of the whole castle and could pinpoint the people he wanted out of the hundreds that were currently inside the palace, busy at work for the night’s later events.

With confidant steps, he made his way towards a library, weaving in and out of rooms. He dipped his head in polite greetings or waved off those that gave low bows. He rounded another corner and stumbled into a shorter figure he hadn’t taken note of.

“Hiei! I’m sorry,” Kuwabara reached out and placed a heavy hand on the shorter man’s shoulder, his fingers dug into the thick dark furs Hiei wore most often. For once Hiei had not shadowed his face with black paint, and his red eyes peered up at Epsilon. Hiei dipped his head in a slight greeting, and then pressed a hand over his heart.

“Lord Epsilon, last Prince of the stars,” Hiei spoke formally, greeting Epsilon in a way that shocked Kuwabara greatly. If Kuwabara could, he would have liked to pinch himself at the reverent amount of respect he could hear in Hiei’s voice. A sly smirk tipped onto his face, “It seems you finally let Yusuke out of bed…”

Epsilon coughed, and Kuwabara could feel that their face was turning beat red.

"Or rather... he let you out of bed," Hiei chortled.

“Stop…” Epsilon muttered his face boiling hot.

“If my sovereign commands,” Hiei returned.

Epsilon groaned in protest, “Go bother Princess Rei!”

“She and I have already convened. We are both concerned about tonight’s event,” Hiei stated, eyes piercing into Epsilon.

Epsilon stood a little straiter as the former commander of his army spoke up. Hiei shifted as well, a hand sliding to a sword he kept at his hip, a surviving relic from Epsilon Lyrae.

“Can you not talk with the Queen again?” Hiei asked.

“I have spoken with her many times. We both must reluctantly admit, tonight’s party will be good for the kingdom. In dark times, small distractions-”

“Small distractions are a death nail on a battlefield,” Hiei interrupted sternly.

“This is not a battlefield,” Epsilon pointed out.

“Yet,” Hiei quipped back, his tone sharp and disapproving.

Epsilon squirmed guiltily under Hiei’s gaze. Kuwabara could feel Epsilon’s frustration and own disappointment. Epsilon respected Hiei so much, he didn't want to disappoint him.

A little petulantly Epsilon muttered, “I am not the ruler here… I have no say.”

“Bullshit,” Hiei returned, “The Queen trusts you greatly. Tell her to call this whole masquerade off!”

“She is a monarch who believes in peace! Peace above all else,” Epsilon sighed, running a hand over the tuft of curled hair on his head. “It took me a long time to convince her to have palace guards present at the ball. She wants to prove to the Moon Kingdom and Earth that we are not enemies! We are people who can come to understand one another. I want to believe in her well wishes…”

Hiei looked at Epsilon for a long time, “Try once more. Regardless of her decision, I will be in the shadows, looking after you as always. Remember, I protect you and the few surviving members of our court first.”

“Hiei-”

Hiei held up a finger, his eyes narrowing sternly, “We come first.”

"You would protect Princess Rei-" Epsilon argued, only to go quiet as Hiei glared up at him.

"Princess Rei has her Princess to protect, and I have you. I told her where my priorities stood, and she knows where I expect her to fall. You... and our surviving court is all that matters to me. You will come first!"

Epsilon sighed, and watched as Hiei brushed past him, slipping silently away. Hiei’s allegiance was to his friends, sister, and Prince Epsilon, who fell somewhere between friend and former ruler. Epsilon wasn’t always too sure how Hiei felt about him, but there were times when a sharp cloak of protectiveness would burst out of Hiei to surround Epsilon’s shoulders.

‘Hiei’s still… Hiei. Aggressive little shit,’ Kuwabara thought affectionately. Kuwabara was beginning to wonder how old Epsilon really was. Epsilon’s actions reminded Kuwabara of himself when he was in junior high, back when he first met Hiei. Both were short-tempered when they interacted, and Kuwabara had been unsure where he and Hiei’s relationship had stood when they were younger. He knew better now, but he could tell Epsilon was as unsure with Hiei now as Kuwabara used to be.

‘I know Epsilon is very old now… Hundreds of years at least. He ages slowly… maybe Epsilon is still like a teenager here. He's not... I'm not human in this life? It must be different somehow,’ Kuwabara quietly observed.

As Kuwabara mulled over the situation he had just witnessed, Epsilon returned to his task of finding his teacher, Yukina.

She was in the library as Epsilon had first determined, and was not alone.

Yukina had an open book spread out on a table, with Kurama sitting at her side. The princess of Mercury was between the two pointing out a passage in the book. Princess Ami could often be found with Yukina and Kurama in spare downtimes. Yukina had taken the princess under her wing when it came to training, but both Yukina and Kurama were fond of the quiet princess from her small blue world.

“Hail, the great white witch, teacher, and friend to the Epsilon Lyrae line,” Epsilon greeted formally, wishing to show his teacher the proper respect with her title, “Hail, first advisor of my house, Kurama!”

Kurama was the first to look up at Epsilon and he shook his head, tutting at Epsilon, “I need no such former greeting!” 

“As my teachers, I shall always respect you, a little formality here and there has no harm!” Epsilon reasoned, smiling at the little group.

While Yukina was Epsilon’s formal teacher, Kurama had also been an excellent teacher. Yukina helped Epsilon learn the ways of his people, their histories, and their planet, but Kurama as his advisor taught him everything else. Kurama explained the stars around him, the cultures of other people, the importance of being a moral leader. Both Yukina and Kurama were invaluable friends as well as teachers. He would have been truly lost without them in his younger days.

Princess Ami stood up, her blue gown sweeping elegantly as she moved, “Prince Epsilon, good afternoon,” She curtsied, lowing her eyes as she politely greeted the man.

Epsilon bowed in return, “Forgive me for interrupting you all. But I needed a moment with my teacher.”

Princess Ami smiled, though she did look a little disappointed, “Then I will be on my way. Miss Yukina, Mister Kurama thank you for your time. I shall go attend my duties.”

Yukina stood up and reached out to place a gentle hand on Ami’s arm, “Remember Princess, tactical diversions in a battle is just as important as brute strength. Don’t doubt yourself. You are… a treasured friend and an indispensable Sailor Scout… don’t forget.”

Princess Ami’s face flushed red, and she squeezed Yukina’s hand once before, hurrying from the room.

“To be so young and so burdened with so many responsibilities,” Kurama sighed, absently pulling at his thick braid that rest against his shoulder.

“She’s also insecure as most young people are,” Yukina added, her voice full of affection, “They have a hard path, made harder by their youth!”

Epsilon grinned, “Your young face makes me forget that you are much older than the rest of us.”

Yukina puffed up her cheeks, “It’s rude to point out a lady’s age!”

Epsilon and Kurama laughed freely for a moment before both asked Yukina for their forgiveness as the petite woman scolded them for mocking her.

“Lady Yukina, I am in need of your services,” Epsilon finally spoke after some things settled down, “I need to take a vision quest. I require your snow.”

“Do you have time for that now?” Kurama asked, tilting his head with a frown, “The masquerade will begin soon…”

Epsilon and Kurama met each other’s gaze, and Kurama quirked a brow, “Ah… I see. This is about the masquerade itself. You’re still worried about the unrest between the Moon Kingdom and Earth.”

“I never stopped worrying about it,” Epsilon amended with a nod, “And Hiei… he is still very firmly opposed to this event, just as Yusuke is. If I invoke my visions, perhaps I can see something of the future that will be of some help.”

“I see… Hiei is very stubborn, but normally right,” Kurama said with a nod, “And even I admit a party in the middle of these tensions…”

“The Queen just wants to prove we mean no ill will towards those from Earth!” Epsilon growled, banging a fist on the table, “Is it so wrong to want to show good faith towards others?”

“No, it’s not wrong. But there is a third party stirring the pot between the Earth and the Moon. I understand what the Queen wants, but we should also be preparing for the worst,” Kurama said gently, placing a hand on Epsilon’s shoulder. Epsilon sagged from the touch and frowned closing his eyes briefly.

“I don’t want to see two kingdoms fall in my lifetime.”

“Ah but you have such a long extended lifetime my prince,” Yukina piped up, smiling at the taller man, “As do I. In my very long life I’ve seen the birth and death of half a dozen kingdoms. Things change… sometimes in ways that make us sad, but such is the flow of time. You are right to try and look ahead to try and preserve your happiness, but the sad truth is not everything can last forever.”

“I don’t… I don’t want to accept that,” Epsilon muttered, “I want to believe that we can all live happily… for as long as our lives will last-no, for even longer! We will have peace and happiness… and I’ll do whatever I can to ensure it!”

Yukina chuckled, her eyes growing soft, “How honorable… and how young. Well… come on then my Prince. Let’s go out into the garden. We’ll find a secluded area where I can help bury you in the snow… I should have asked Ami to stay. It would be easier to have her help.”

“She has her own duties, and her own Princess she must protect…” Epsilon sighed, before turning to Kurama, “Speaking of that… Kurama will you keep and extra eye on Princess Serenity? I know she is saddened by Prince Endymion’s recent banishment.”

Kurama bowed low, a hand over his heart, “Of course. I hope to see you at the party soon… and may your vision’s prove favorable.”

Yukina gently took Epsilon’s arm, and the pair wove their way towards the back of the palace. It opened into a constructed field of flowers that stretched for miles. The Earth, blue, green and beautiful hung in the starlit sky, a chandelier shining down on them. Epsilon and Yukina paused a moment, both looking up into the sky.

“Beautiful… as always,” Epsilon murmured, “I think the Princess has the right idea about wanting to visit Earth one day.”

“I would love to see their snowstorms for my self… I hear they could be as cold as our Star’s used to be,” Yukina whispered, her voice distant and sad.

The Moon Kingdom, while beautiful, had no snowstorms. No snow. No cold. No wild freezing weather that the few surviving members of Epsilon Lyrae were accustomed to. The closest they could get to snow was unfortantely the wild sandstorms that would kick up on the Moon some times. The stormy winds would gather up the white sands and spread the sand around violently coating everything in thick layers of sand. It hardly counted as snow... but it was the closest they could get to a snowstorm here. 

They had learned recently from Princess Serenity, that according to the Prince Endymion of Earth, his blue planet had snow. Something Epsilon longed to feel against his skin again. Something apparently Yukina missed as well.

“Listen to you… weren’t you just saying you had lived long enough to see kingdoms come and go? Are you still able to get homesick?” Epsilon teased sadly.

“Ah… but the death of Epsilon Lyrae was the first death of an entire star for my eyes to ever see… to have my homeworld die… that… that is a new experience,” Yukina whispered softly, “I hope it may never happen again.”

They stood next to each other for a moment longer, before Yukina cleared her throat and pointed out a fountain.

“If there’s water it’s easier for me to make snow… that will be the perfect place for your vision. I must ask though… why have another vision quest? You took one when deciding if we should have this Masquerade at all,” Yukina pointed out.

“True,” Epsilon admitted, taking long strides towards the fountain. His hand stretched out, and with gentle fingers he let his fingertips brush the velvety petals of the roses that bloomed vibrantly alongside well-manicured bushes, “True… and my vision showed nothing then. But I trust Hiei’s concerns. I also trust Yusuke’s concerns. Both of them raised their worries, and I can't ignore them.”

Epsilon plucked a rose from a bush, and then sat down, his back against the water fountain. Keeping his hand with the rose in his lap, he let his free hand slide into the white sands of the Moon. While this garden had been built up to be lush and green, the white sand still managed to pile up in every corner of the kingdom. 

He looked up once more to Earth, “I do wish one day, we will see the snowstorms of Earth…”

Yukina watched the Prince’s face for a time, and then lifted her hands. Taking a slow breath she walked past Epsilon and stepped within the fountain. When she exhaled a steady white fog dragged from her mouth. She tilted her hands and the water in the fountain rose with her gestures, “Slow your breathing my Prince… slow your breathing and close your eyes. Count backward from ten…”

Snow began to fall as Epsilon closed his eyes. His face was tilted towards the earth, his right hand folded into the sand of the ground, and his left cradling the rose in his lap. Kuwabara could no longer see, but he felt cold drops falling onto his face. It was snowing.

‘Weird. I’m going through another attempt at a vision… A vision within a vision! Sounds like a movie,’ Kuwabara couldn’t help but muse.

“What is a movie?”

Kuwabara jolted and turned around.

He was now inside a black space, with snow falling all around him. He took a step, gasping as he was no longer formless. He held a hand in front of himself to be sure and saw his bare arm. With a  little embarrassment, he noted he was in his boxers, the same he had been wearing when he first went into his trance. Standing before him, several yards away was himself, or rather, Epsilon.

“Oh… shit!” Kuwabara choked, too stunned to contain his shock.

“I felt a strange presence with me all day… I wouldn’t have guessed that it would be myself,” Epsilon said, his feet rooted to the spot. Epsilon was dressed in the same strange outfit Kuwabara saw him in earlier, and in one hand was a rose, while white sand poured from his other hand.

Kuwabara remembered the sand and rose petals from when he first started this vision.

Epsilon's eyes raked over Kuwabara’s body, and he frowned as they came to settle at his hair, “Ugh. What an ugly style…”

“Oh yeah, says the guy sporting a rat tail!” Kuwabara snapped.

Epsilon frowned, glaring at Kuwabara.

Kuwabara glared back but felt his own anger fade to shock as he watched such a familiar expression come over this man’s face. Epsilon's face, also relaxed, and the pair stared at each other for a long time. Snow started to fall around them, but none touched their bodies. The flakes danced around them, quietly fading into the darkness around them.

“…I’m… not here to talk to you about your hair,” Epsilon finally spoke.

He shifted his weight on his feet, swaying side to side, before he took one single step forward, “I have had an ominous feeling in the pit of my gut for weeks now. Something terrible is going to happen tonight… and now I see a visage of myself that is me… but not me. Tell me… you are me… right?”

Kuwabara paused, but straightened out his back, “Yes. I’m you in the future. Or... maybe I'm you from the future... I'm not sure how to describe it. And you’re… me. I came… I came to ask for help.”

“Help? From the past? Shouldn’t I be asking for help?” Epsilon pointed out. “If I look that way, if you are me of the future… then I don’t think I’m alive on the Moon Kingdom anymore.”

“I don’t know how to help you in your current situation, or if I even could,” Kuwabara said back, taking a few cautious steps forward, “I’ve just remembered my past lives, and you’re my first. I think it’s too late to change that now.”

Epsilon sighed, a sad but relenting look coming across his face, “Then it as we all feared. The Moon Kingdom will fall… and I’m going to die.”

“I’m… sorry,” Kuwabara awkwardly apologized, “I don’t even know how we’re having this conversation… I just thought I was here to observe.”

"Will everyone die?" Epsilon asked desperately, and Kuwabara felt a wave of guilt stab at his heart.

"I..." Kuwabara floundered for what to say.

Epsilon closed his eyes and sighed, "...Are we alone? In this future... is..."

"We find our friends again. We're all together," Kuwabara admitted readily.

Epsilon smiled, a bittersweet hope flickering over his face, "Then I suppose that... that is all I can ask for..." Epsilon relinquished the last of the rose petals and sand in his hands, a heavy sigh escaping his chest.

Kuwabara wanted to reach out and hug this version of himself, but the strangeness of that thought, wouldn't allow him to go and comfort his old past self.

“What is it you need to see?” Epsilon asked voice growing soft as he closed the distance between himself and Kuwabara.

They were close enough to shake hands now if they wanted, but Kuwabara didn’t dare reach out, “I think I need to remember everything about my life so that I can defeat Lyrae.”

Epsilon physically startled. He swayed and took a step back, hunching low, “Lyrae?!”

“Yes! He’s on Earth, and he’s strong! My friends and I… we don’t remember anything about our past or how to stop him! So I’m here to… to remember, and maybe learn about a weapon to stop Lyrae! I need to know how to put an end to him, not just for my safety but my friends safety too!”

"Lyrae..." Epsilon moaned bitterly, "I had hoped... hoped he'd never..." Epsilon closed his eyes tight.

"Look... I don't... I'm sorry to bring him up, but he's really returned!" Kuwabara explained, words tumbling over one another, "And we've got to stop him! He's after us, and I don't think he'll be satisfied with just me-er us? I think the Earth-"

Kuwabara was interrupted by Epsilon placing a hand flat on his chest, right where Kuwabara’s nervous heart was beating.

Epsilon prodded Kuwabara with a bit of his spiritual energy, it was like being able to sense his own aura but in somebody else’s body.

“Strange,” they both echoed at the same time.

Epsilon met Kuwabara’s eyes, and Kuwabara watched as a resolute expression flashed across his own face.

It was all too strange.

“I doubt we have long to talk like this, but I’ll try to answer your question. But… if what I’m sensing is correct,” Epsilon tilted his head and looked hard into Kuwabara’s eyes, “You should already have the weapon that can defeat my brother.”

 

 

 

End chapter 20