The main living room of the Scarlet Devil Mansion was lit up with enough candles that provided a more ephemeral feel to it rather than using the main lighting system. It felt homely and warm as opposed to how it once did before Remilia & Patchouli had brought them to Gensokyo.
It felt like so long ago to Remilia who was perched on the couch with Sakuya next to her, but in reality, it had only been several years since that fateful day.
Remilia was often struck with bouts of nostalgia when moments like this occurred. For so long the mansion felt cold and bare; with Flandre unstable, Patchouli just about present, no Meiling and Sakuya as an enemy so this change in the atmosphere was something Remilia revelled in.
To be in a land as accommodating as Gensokyo was to them, to be surrounded by a variety of individuals that were both entertaining and amusing, to finally have a place where they didn't have to run from.
It was a sensation that couldn't be matched she thought to herself.
The steam from her tea had cooled and it was then that she noticed Sakuya was watching her, a pleasant smile on her face.
"I asked if you'd like some wine instead but Mistress had clearly gone elsewhere" Sakuya replied with a knowing tone.
The vampire gathered herself quickly though she knew nothing really passed Sakuya when it came to these things so she kindly declined the wine and focused her attention on a different topic.
"I think I'll save it for later on when everyone else joins us, it will not be very host like if I am intoxicated beforehand".
"Of course, that would be terrible wouldn't it".
"I sense some sarcasm".
"Nothing passes you huh, sis" Flandre quipped.
The oldest Scarlet shot a glare at the blonde, "If I wasn't so comfortable, you'd suffer for that".
"Ooh I'm terrified!".
At one point in time, that would've resulted in actual blows but not now, the sisters relationship had improved drastically over the years and for that, Sakuya was grateful. Remilia was smiling at Flandre's teasing retort and it was genuine unlike the strained one she was so use to seeing.
The maid glanced down to see what the others were up to when Flandre moved back.
Patchouli and Kokoro were engaged in a game of cards, both showing off their poker faces which Kokoro had to admit that Patchouli's was quite impressive.
For a magician anyway.
They were all nestled near the fireplace that was alight as the crackling of wood burning presented another homely touch to the room.
Flandre was sat behind the menreiki with Koakuma and Meiling watching the game intently whilst sat next to Patchouli.
"Lady Patchouli hasn't blinked in 5 minutes, how does she do that!?" Meiling whispered to Koa who giggled.
"She doesn't really blink when reading so she is kind of used to it".
"I wouldn't last five minutes without needing to close my eyes!".
Sakuya cleared her throat and spoke up with sarcasm dripping from her voice and a subtle smirk on her lips, "That is exactly why we have a consistent intruder who more or less walks into the mansion".
The gatekeeper frowned and ducked her head as the others laughed along, "Sorry".
Koakuma patted her head apologetically on Sakuya's behalf as Flandre waved her hand in front of the duo to see if she could get them to blink and place their next move.
She knew it wouldn't work with Kokoro so the vampire had to opt to more sneaky tactics or else the game would never end. Her arms were still around the menreiki's waist and she rested her head forward so that she could reach just enough to place a kiss on her cheek.
Patchouli was surprised that Kokoro's eyes could go that wide which snapped her out of her trace as the flustered menreiki tried and failed to glare at the vampire.
"Flandre, why did you do that?".
"Sorry, you're just adorable!" she gushed and squeezed her arms slightly tighter, Kokoro making no attempt to move from her as it felt rather good and was sweet.
"Is that what they refer to as the charm of a vampire?" Meiling questioned with a smile as Flandre and Kokoro became fixated on their hugging contest.
Patchouli replied whilst shuffling her deck, "How do you think Remi managed to get Sakuya? Without the charm, she's really quite inept sometimes".
"Hey! Say that to my face Patche, I dare you!" a miffed Remilia whined though Sakuya was trying hard to conceal her laughter while stroking her wings to calm her down, "I double dare you!".
"Ooh sis went all double on Patche!" Flandre commented whilst hovering over Kokoro who was flat on the floor now.
Patchouli smirked ever so subtly and soaked in the pleasure in managing to annoy Remilia like that after hundreds of years.
Truly, Gensokyo was a delight for them all and maybe it was a twist of fate that they needed to end up there.
"Ow, that hurts!".
"Reimu, you dive bombed head first into a bush full of thorns, what were you to expect?" Alice scolded lightly as she plucked the final thorn out from the brunette's shoulder.
"To flatten those goddamn fairies with my face..".
Alice hid the smile at Reimu's sulking and annoyed features, the woman looking far too endearing as opposed to threatening.
"And how did that work out?".
Reimu moved her head up from the table and glared at her lover which was the final straw and Alice burst out laughing. Her hands covered her face to try and stop but it was fruitless as Reimu's angry face was one of the best things around.
Alice could understand why Yukari loved to irritate her.
The brunette wanted to be mad at the magician but Reimu couldn't say a word as hearing Alice laugh like that was worth it. She would shed that reserved and pulled together aura that everyone else saw and completely let loose. She couldn't help but to shake her head and force the grin off of her own face to tell the magician off for laughing at her painful experience.
"Hey, it wasn't that funny!".
Alice stuck her hands out in apology and calmed down whilst tending back to Reimu's wounds.
"From the outside looking in, it was quite amusing".
"Alright, I'll throw you into a thorn bush and see how hilarious it is" Reimu replied with a pout but knew she couldn't keep it there long, not with Alice around.
The magician finished applying some medication onto the wounds before ruffling Reimu's hair, "I'd like to see you try" she smiled, "Besides, if you do that, who's going to take you to Remilia's party later, you can't fly like that".
That much was true Reimu mused to herself as Alice raised an eyebrow.
"Really, that is what is making you think twice about throwing me in a bush? Well then".
"Aw is little Alice jealous?" the brunette teased, poking her cheek which got the blonde to chuckle and bat her hand away whilst moving her face up to Reimu's.
She didn't say anything and simply kept her eyes on Reimu's, taking in the expressive red orbs that shifted from smugness to shyness. Reimu was quite simple to figure out despite how hot headed she could become at times and the magician adored learning new things about her.
Like the fact that sudden silence made the woman anxious.
Her eyes furrowed whilst she called Alice's name to get her to say something but the blonde only smiled. She was absolutely enamoured with Reimu and moments like this where she didn't hesitate to show her more self indulgent side which was heaven for Alice.
"Jeez I was joking you know, c'mon Alice say something".
Slowly, the magician lifted a hand and placed it on Reimu's cheek, the warmth of the skin hitting her instantly. She fluttered her eyelashes and saw Reimu practically falter at that. Knowing the brunette's weak points was another bonus.
Moving her face closer and closer to Reimu's, Alice watched as her eyes closed when they were merely a kiss apart. Her lips pursed gently and it was taking everything for the blonde to not yield to her own desires and kiss her. Not when payback was on the horizon.
As soon as their noses brushed gently against each others, Alice deemed this close enough and executed her plan.
Just as suddenly, she ducked and pulled back, leaving Reimu to kiss air much to the brunette's dismay.
"Alice, what the hell?!".
"Since I'm so jealous, you should get your other girlfriend at the mansion to give you a kiss" she replied so innocently, watching Reimu's mouth drop as a flurry of stutters came out.
She crossed her arms against her chest and turned her head away swiftly from Alice, "Huh, I didn't want that kiss anyway" but then winced in pain as the rapid movement made her shoulder sting.
Alice quickly rushed forward to see to her when Reimu quickly intercepted with her own face, or more so her lips.
It was brief but definitely left an impact as Alice didn't move away but she was obviously scolding herself for being so easily tricked like that.
"Gotcha" she grinned after the delicate and short lived kiss ended, leaving Alice flushed and pushing Reimu back by her chest.
"You are such a pain".
Reimu pulled her into a one armed hug and basked in how endearing Alice was behaving.
"I have my moments and for the record, Alice is more important to me than Remilia's booze".
"You spoil me with your compliments" she chuckled and rolled her eyes whilst tucking up closer against her.
It made Reimu not want to leave the shrine at this rate and she would be fine with that.
Anywhere was fine, as long as Alice was there with her.
Reisen, Mokou & Youmu couldn't believe what they were seeing as their eyes stayed glued on the screen.
Who would have thought that the one person who could defeat Kaguya in the game they were playing would be Keine.
The responsible, studious and serious teacher, Keine Kamishirasawa.
"I think I might have taught you too well" Kaguya groaned and passed the controller to Mokou as Keine successfully beat the Princess's character to a pulp.
The teacher chuckled and gave Reisen the other controller as she switched places with the Princess and took her hand, squeezing it in comfort.
"Then that is a sign of proficiency in terms of your teaching skills, Kaguya".
"Well since you are taking my job, I might as well take yours" Kaguya grinned and rested her head against Keine's shoulder.
"Don't do it Keine, she'll corrupt those kids" Mokou smirked whilst trying to dodge Reisen's attacks on the game.
Kaguya scoffed, "I'll have you know that they would be raised to be wonderful beings. Unlike you" she teased back.
Youmu watched the exchange and asked Keine, "Reisen wasn't exaggerating, they really do not fight much anymore?".
"Not physically anyway" Keine replied with a smile and shifted as Kaguya had some how found herself onto her lap with her head resting on her chest.
"I can't now since Keine would kick my ass too".
"That and Master's glares could scare anyone to death, even immortals" Reisen said with most of her focus on the screen.
Youmu nodded in understanding as her gaze switched from Kaguya to Keine.
Eientei was much more peaceful these days, so Yukari would tell them since she spent a lot of time there. Without the immortals routinely spars, the forest seemed less colder despite its reputation.
Eirin said the same whenever she went round to the Netherworld to do her check up on Youmu so sitting around like this in each others company had become somewhat of the norm.
"Ah crap" Mokou muttered as Reisen was grinning now.
"Oh no, Mokou. It seems that you are on fire both in game and in person" the lunarian stated in a monotonous mocking tone, "What are you going to do?".
"Man she even taunts like you, Kaguya".
"Of course, she is mine and Eirin's protégé" the Princess laughed softly and clung onto Keine, "See, give me a day with the kids and they'll be up to shape with tactful insults like that, Keine".
"If I allow that, their parents will be at my door with weapons of all varieties" Keine chuckled whilst running her fingers down the Princess's hair.
"Like I'd let anyone hurt you".
Even beneath the joking context, everyone in the room could feel how much she meant that and even Keine was taking aback by it slightly. Her words were formed as eloquently as usual and the way her brown eyes never shifted from the historian's face further amplified the emotion behind that simple sentence.
"Wow, she can be sweet" Mokou snickered, "What have you done to her, Keine?".
Reisen and Youmu smiled along as Kaguya shrugged and stuck her tongue out at Mokou.
"You too, would learn plenty from me, Mokou. I'm sure that night sparrow is waiting for your confessions".
The comment knocked Mokou off her game which gave Reisen a flawless victory.
"Well done, Reisen" Youmu congratulated warmly when they locked eyes.
"Thank you, would you like to have a try now? I know you'll do great".
"Uh, I don't know, it looks hard to work".
Reisen took the controller from Mokou as she was too busy spluttering out excuses about how she didn't like Mystia that way but she did like her, just not that that kind of way and passed it to Youmu.
"Believe me, you'll get the hang of it in no time and I'll help you".
Youmu gulped and took the controller, her fingers brushing the lunarian's which made her blush further more though Reisen simply gave her that comforting smile.
The atmosphere of the room was one of a familiar and content aura as once strangers and enemies were now friends or lovers.
It took a lot less effort to build bridges as opposed to tearing it down constantly due to misplaced anger and uncertainty after all.
The mansion's kitchen was strewn with many dishes and ingredients, both used and unused. Along with this, an array of scents floated around the air that could make the most proficient of cooks rethink their profession as they could never concoct the kind of dishes being made in that kitchen.
Yuyuko was in love.
It wasn't just her love for food that was being satiated as everything else followed whenever Yumeko was around.
"Are you sure I can't help with anything?" she questioned whilst stood at the other side of the counter where Yumeko insisted she remained.
"Of course, Lady Saigyouji, please leave it to me" the blonde smiled back.
"It is technically my mansion and you are technically my guest so I should be hosting for you. Or Youmu but I insisted she goes to Eientei and that we would see her later at Remilia's party".
Yumeko stepped away once everything could be left alone to cook for the remainder of the time and walked to where Yuyuko was.
The ghost Princess was the epitome of untainted beauty and sharp insight and Yumeko could only be thrilled when they hit it off during their numerous encounters whenever she and Shinki would visit Gensokyo. Soon enough, she was frequenting the place with visits pretty often.
Be it cooking together or going for a stroll along the Netherworld's expansive gardens, the demon didn't mind anything at all as long as she could be in the company of Yuyuko.
"You fret far too much" she chided with a smile.
"Ghosts have problems too you know" Yuyuko chuckled and looked up at the woman since she was a good few feet taller.
The blonde bent forward so that they were eye level, "Such as this?".
"Now you're mocking me, I need to have a word with your Mistress I do believe".
"Lady Saigyouji, if that was to occur, my visits here would cease" she said as casually as she could knowing that it'll bother Yuyuko if that was to really happen.
The Princess placed her hands on Yumeko's shoulders and pulled her closer, her pink eyes appearing far to gentle that it should be deemed impossible. She looked quite serious all things considering and Yumeko wondered if that was a joke too far.
After all, she knew Yuyuko also enjoyed the way their relationship had flourished from their first encounters. To part from Yuyuko, even due to realistic events wouldn't sit well with Yumeko and she would do whatever required to see the Princess.
So maybe the intensity in Yuyuko's eyes was warranted.
As were the cool lips that pressed against her own after she spoke.
"That won't do, will it Yumeko?".
It was said barely above a whisper but given their close proximity, Yumeko felt the words slam into her heart and engrain themselves there whilst her hands found their way down to Yuyuko's waist.
Something was going to burn, either the food or her body but the demon didn't mind either way.
Yuyuko seemed just as oblivious to her surroundings as her mouth was focused on the tenderness of the demon's lips on hers. Nothing compared to the taste of that and it made her crave more. She pushed up against Yumeko as much as she could as her hands gripped onto her neck, pulling her down and keeping their lips pressed for as long as possible.
Yumeko could appreciate that Yuyuko had no capacity to how long she could hold her breath however, she herself couldn't share the same sentiments unfortunately and had slowly moved her mouth away from the Princess's. At least she got to see the glazed look in the woman's pink eyes, her cheeks somehow managing to match the colour of her hair and it made the blonde melt.
"Does that mean I am forgiven for my ill-timed attempt at humour, Lady Saigyouji?".
"Hmm, almost" Yuyuko replied and twirled her fingers into the blonde hair like she used to do with Yukari's.
She nodded, "There is one more thing that you must do".
Yumeko went along with the little game Yuyuko was obviously playing, "And what would that be?".
She glanced back at the stove before Yuyuko could continue, "Though I must check on the food, Lady Saigyouji. Please bare with me a moment".
"The food won't matter if you cannot fulfil this request for me, Yumeko" Yuyuko smiled without revealing anything, the blonde wondering how she managed to do that.
Then again, she recalled that the Queen of glib and games was Yuyuko's closest friend which explained it.
"Then I shall do my utmost best. What is it that you ask of me?".
Straight to the point, the Princess said, "Call me by my name".
"Forgive me but I do not follow" Yumeko replied and was slightly baffled by the request, "Saigyouji is not of your family name?".
"That's the problem. I'm not going to eat until you call me by my name, my full, first name".
It dawned on Yumeko now what Yuyuko meant and it took her by surprise at a request that could be deemed as quite personal and intimate. They were dating, though for Yumeko, she hadn't known how to address anyone with a higher title other than by their family name and Yuyuko was no different.
Still, if that was what Yuyuko wanted, then she was honoured by her request and the face the woman was making now was too cute for the demon to not yank her chain a little.
Yumeko chuckled at the way Yuyuko's eyes creased when she replied with that answer, knowing full well what she meant.
"Yu-yu-ko, got it? Like Yu-me-ko but slightly different".
Yuyuko could play just as coy when she wanted to do.
"Is this what you truly want?".
"Why wouldn't I?" Yuyuko smiled and trailed her fingers back down to the blonde's shoulders, "I want that and much more with you".
Her words were too much for Yumeko and she didn't mind showing this side to her. Not even Shinki could make the wave of emotion swirl around within her like Yuyuko did and for that, she would do whatever the Princess asked of her because she felt the same.
"The feeling is mutual, Yuyuko".
Eirin and Yukari crossed paths with Byakuren and Kanako as they headed towards the Scarlet mansion and the blonde couldn't help herself with starting on Kanako.
"I see Sanae was playing hairdresser with you tonight, who would have thought you would look so adorable with a ponytail".
The wind goddess grit her teeth and forced a smile out, "What can I say, the look isn't for all, Yukari. It is understandable that you will feel a bit disappointed by that".
Byakuren and Eirin sighed at the typical greetings that those two always gave each other and let them get it out of their system. They opted for a more civil conversation starter.
"I take it Yukari is insisting you join her for this one?".
"Someone has to keep her out of trouble" she laughed softly, "I can only assume the same applies to you coming here? I understand you are not particularly fond of Remilia's drinking parties".
"Not to begin with but with Kanako's sake consumption, I've grown use to it" Byakuren replied.
Said goddess and sage were staring at them, unamused, "We are here you know"
"You wouldn't think it" Eirin said teasingly and squeezed Yukari's fingers in apology, "Are we ready to go or do you both need a moment to assert your dominance again?".
"Do you ever get the feeling we're with the wrong women, Yukari?" Kanako laughed and rolled her eyes.
"It has crossed my mind" the blonde answered as she read between the lines, "Maybe we were too quick to dismiss our unresolved sexual tension".
Byakuren instinctively pulled Kanako closer to her which got Yukari to smirk.
Eirin was more than used to their behaviour so she didn't take their banter seriously as the four started to make their way up to the mansion, hovering off the ground to get out of the cold a bit quicker.
"It sure looks busy in there already" Byakuren commented as the hoards of youkai were already within the mansion gates, a flustered Meiling clearly a second away from giving up.
"As expected" Yukari added.
"Where are the rest of your temple by the way?" Eirin asked the priestess.
She shook her head with disapproval, "I have a feeling they are already in there. If there is anyone that would know the moment a party in Gensokyo is happening, there are three culprits I can think of".
"The tanuki, the captain and the bishamonten?".
"I'd rather not ponder on it much" she said at Kanako's guesses as they approached the gates and went in.
Meiling had given up trying to keep out any troublemakers and guzzled down the sake that Koakuma had brought out for her.
"Heey! Look who it is!" a hammered Murasa and Nue said together and stumbled towards Byakuren who wanted the ground to open up and swallow her, "What brings ya here?!" Murasa then asked.
"I'd like to know the same regarding you two" Byakuren said as Kanako let out a laugh at the drunken duo.
"Eirin, I think you might have some work here".
The doctor could definitely see that happening and wondered how Byakuren's no violence rule was working out.
Yukari led the way in before anything could happen, the raucous and boisterous noise hitting her in the face the deeper they travelled into the mansion. They used the youkai strewn around as a guide to find the main room in the ever changing building thanks to Sakuya's abilities.
Eventually, they stumbled in and were greeted with the usual faces as they exchanged pleasantries.
It actually did feel like the whole of Gensokyo was there to the four women as they parted ways and began mingling.
"Over here!" a familiar voice yelled out and caught Kanako and Byakuren's attention.
It was Ichirin and the rest of the Myouren temple so the two weaved their way through the crowd to get to them.
"I'd really like to have a drinking challenge with your temple" Kanako suggested with an impressed smile at the passed out members drooling over each other.
"Please don't encourage them" Byakuren said as they sat down, the goddess pulling the priestess onto her lap instead.
"I don't think they need any to be fair".
"Bring it on!" Murasa bellowed and raised a dish towards Kanako, "The Myouren Temple could wipe the floor with the Moriya Shrine! Amiright or amiright?".
The others gave a drunken cheer and nodded their heads, "Murasa's right!".
Kanako apologised to her lover who shrunk into her shoulder and sighed out. She really did have the patience of a saint the goddess chuckled to herself when Byakuren picked her head up and gave them all a smile, albeit a tired one.
"Since we are here, and you are here, I can't really think of not enjoying myself" she justified and toyed with Kanako's ponytail.
"Does that mean you are going to drink some sake with me?".
The Priestess laughed gently, "Maybe if Sanae joins us later with an abundance of miracles though even then it seems unlikely".
"It was worth a shot" Kanako smirked with a shrug and was compensated with a chaste kiss.
Byakuren did not want to give the rest of her followers anymore ideas so she kept it as subtle as possible.
Eirin could see the Eientei bunch at the end of the room with a few of the demons from Makai. Kaguya was slightly drunk given the pink hue on her cheeks as Keine kept her steady whilst Youmu and Reisen were in deep conversation. Mokou was awkwardly sat next to a flushed Mystia who appeared quite ecstatic which was something else.
"I dread to think what happened before we arrived here" she commented as they sat down near Ran, Chen and a few others, "Even Remilia seems unsteady on her feet".
Yukari watched Sakuya lead the stumbling vampire to her chair and place her down, Flandre and Kokoro not too far from them with Patchouli and Marisa.
"An incredibly good time apparently" she chuckled and sipped the sake.
"Well this is obviously more your scene so you would say that".
"Actually, I believe that you are more my scene" Yukari countered easily and winked at Eirin.
"You've had two sips of the sake, don't tell me you are drunk already" the lunarian joked.
"So I have to be drunk in order to sway you? I consider that a challenge".
Her hands went around Eirin's waist as her violet eyes roamed over the woman but something else caught her vision.
"Ah so Shinki's demon is here".
Eirin turned slightly to see Yumeko and Yuyuko sat together and then glanced back at the blonde, a silver brow arching up before she asked her, "Does this bother you?".
"Not in the slightest, I'm pleased for Yuyuko" she said and Eirin could hear the genuine tone in her voice, "Though that was unexpected".
"Considering that many think of us in a similar way, it shouldn't really be that much of a shock".
Yukari thought for a moment as she rested her other hand on the table, "We're more likely to happen than they were what with our apparent hatred for each other".
"Apparent?" Eirin repeated with an incredulous tone, "Yukari, you still come up with ideas to torment the lunarians".
"Well I have to keep them on their toes and since I can't do that the same way I do with you, alternative methods are required".
"You are terrible" the lunarian mumbled as the warmth on her face settled due to Yukari's euphemism, "But back to Yuyuko and Yumeko at hand, I'm glad that you are supportive of their relationship".
Yukari brought her other hand back around and clasped it over Eirin's, "Everyone is entitled to some form of happiness. Gensokyo provides that as a shelter, the individuals themselves take it to the next stage by making bonds and companionships, just as humans do".
"So the Hakurei barrier is just the first of many for all here? At least on a metaphorical level?".
"Naturally" the blonde grinned, "You of all should know that. There were more subtle ways of breaking past those without needing to cause an eternal night but hey, you do you".
"I believe you did something not too different to the actual barrier so you don't have a leg to stand on, Yukari" Eirin countered and basked in the blonde's face full of surprise.
"Maybe we had more in common at first glance".
"Obsessing over Princesses?".
"Touché, Eirin" Yukari laughed as that realisation couldn't be more true for them both, "It turns out that I was more in tune with a sage".
Eirin leaned forward, ignoring the whistles from those around them as the youkai's sake laden lips were calling out to her.
"So was I" she said quietly as Yukari closed the gap between them and placed her hand on the lunarian's shoulder and the other on her cheek.
At the end of the day, differences are the catalyst for the creation of barriers. Race, species, beliefs will be attributes that can wedge apart every living thing with a conscious and those are just a few to name.
That is when it becomes essential to remember why we exist in the first place and you'll come to realise that an actual reason can never be found.
This is when it should resonate within you that these so called barriers that create animosity and distrust in an already fragile world need to be torn down.
By learning, by feeling, by talking, by being aware and most importantly; by having a mind that isn't afraid to open.