Work Header

Apple Spice

Work Text:

Her new apartment is small, much like herself with her too small hands and too small frame. Botan helps her settle in, bringing with her textbooks and school supplies and a little green keychain she insists Yukina keep with her at all times.

“Just in case,” she says, pressing the rectangular shape into her hand and guiding her to a hidden switch. This was Yukina, and Yukina could never be too cautious, especially with her history.

The unpacking begins and before long, Yukina is settled. Botan lingers about, unwilling to leave the green-haired girl who had been in her care for the past month. A month was not enough. A month was too short a time to imbue her with everything she needed to know to survive in this big, tumultuous world. But a month it was, and there was nothing Botan could do about it.

She sighed. Yukina looked at her, all big eyes and polite smiles. Botan pulled her into a tight hug, whispering to take care. Yukina nodded. Thank you, she said, hugging the woman just as tightly. Thank you for everything.

With a peck on the cheek and a promise she’ll call, Botan was gone.

Yukina was left to her own devices.

First, she sorted her textbooks. Math, almost all of them. She was a mathematics major after all, drawn to the cold logic of numbers. Numbers were predictable. They were cemented in their ways and never changed, always consistent in conveying raw, factual data. No opinions. No words.

Yukina was bad with words. She did not talk much and when she did, she was textbook perfect; she had learned how to interact through textbooks, after all. She was always equipped with perfect, formulaic responses. She thrived in polite society and came across as unerringly graceful in her mannerisms. But when she was surrounded by youths, normal people from a normal world, she struggled.

The textbooks weren’t very good at teaching her to play with words. Once a conversation made it past polite openings, Yukina found herself with very little to say. She could order a meal at a restaurant, but when it came to making small talk with the waiter, she found herself unnaturally intimidated. She supposed it couldn’t be helped that she had been deprived of benevolent human interaction for much of her childhood. At least now, she could improve. Perhaps.

Classes begin.

Yukina thought she was the lone girl in the mathematics department until she looked harder and caught a whiff of shampoo now and then, a splotch of significantly less hairy leg here and there. It was rather hard to differentiate the sexes when everyone wore sweatpants and hoodies and baseball capes. Yukina had nothing against guys, but she was used to female company and felt infinitely more comfortable befriending a fellow woman.

No one talked to her, at first.

She felt surreptitious glances all through class and people quieted down when she walked by, but no one approached for the first week. Then, as time passed and the students grew familiar with each other, a few boys were bold enough to initiate contact.

Hello, they would say, and Yukina would reply with her perfect formulaic answer. How was your day? What’s your major? Where are you from? The typical introductory questions she handled with grace. After that, though, she found herself lacking words.

The boys were friendly, but she recognized those secretive glances and whispered words for what they really were; an attempt to close the distance between them, but only for personal, ulterior motives. Motives that were more than likely lewd in nature.

The boys began to bore her, then began to bother her, and finally grew to irritate her. Their motives only became more clear as conversation dragged on. Her perfect, formulaic answers might have been graceful in polite society, but these were college guys and they had no care for things such as politeness. They only wanted to know if she’d be willing to sleep with them if they pestered her enough with pretenses of friendship.

One day, Yukina was reaching her limit. This guy was very persistent, following her after class to pepper her with endless questions. Where did she live? Did she have a boyfriend? Did she like him? Did she want to party?

I don’t want to tell you. No, no, and no, Yukina thought, but couldn’t bring herself to say because being polite, especially to large men, was engraved in her through years of unpleasant experience. It tended to pay off if things turned ugly.

Suddenly, a head of brown blocked her vision.

“Excuse me,” a woman said icily, putting her notebook between herself and the man. “My friend and I need to get going. No offense or anything, but we’d rather not be late to our next class.”

“What?” the guy said, bewildered. “Who the heck —?” But before he could further inquire, Yukina found herself (gently) pulled aside, rushing through throngs of students to reach the women’s bathroom. She took a breath, smoothing her cardigan before looking at her savior.

She was a slender woman with brown hair and brown eyes, taller than her but not by much. She now gazed at her with concern, reminding Yukina of Botan and her parting words. Take care, she recalled. Make some friends. There’s safety in numbers, sweetie.

“Thank you,” Yukina offered, soft and genuine. She was not used to initiating conversation.

“No problem,” The woman replied, her voice much warmer than before. “I’m Keiko. I’m in the same math class as you, three rows behind and two seats to the left.” She paused, waiting for Yukina.

Yukina smiled. “I’m Yukina. I major in mathematics. It’s very nice to meet you.” She hesitated, but as dictated by her textbook, held out a hand. Keiko covered it with her own and offered a firm shake.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Yukina.” It sounded like a conversation out of an English textbook. Yukina did want friends, she simply didn’t know how to go about making them, and she did not wish for this opportunity to slip away.

“Um!” she began, searching for the words she wanted to say.


“Would you…would you like to have coffee with me?” she asked shyly. “If it’s not too much trouble. As a thank you. For…saving me.”

Keiko’s eyes lit up. “Of course! It’s no trouble at all. You know, I’ve always kept an eye on you since you’re one of the few girls in that math class. The class is doable, but tedious. We can chat over coffee and finish the latest assignment together!”

And thus, Yukina made her first friend.

Keiko Yukimura was smart, sociable, and good-natured. She was fond of fruit tarts and oolong tea. She was quite proficient at mathematics but preferred subjects a bit more lively. Philosophy, for instance. And her debate team. She initially planned on being a teacher, but realized she was remarkably adept at winning arguments. Now, she intended to go to law school, much to the horror of her long-time boyfriend, Yusuke.

“She could land me in jail,” Yusuke whispered dramatically, crashing their study session out of the blue. Keiko had made for the bathroom and Yusuke was taking advantage of her unattended fruit tart.

“I mean, she was always capable of kicking my ass, but now she can do it legally. She can record it on paper and everything and watch my ass serve detention if I put a toe out of line! The horror, man,” he said, before swallowing the fruit tart whole. Yukina wasn’t sure how he managed not to choke. He didn’t chew the pastry even once before it went down.

As Yusuke licked the crumbs off his fingers and admitted, “Hey, this is some good stuff,” a shadow loomed behind him. Moments later, Yusuke yelped as Keiko gripped his ear.

“Yusuke,” she scolded. “What did I say about stealing food? In front of Yukina, no less. Where are your manners?”

“Keiko!” Yusuke greeted, face breaking into a huge grin. He leapt from his seat to give her a bear hug which she grudgingly accepted. Maybe it was the light, but her cheeks were tinged pink.

Yusuke Urameshi manned a ramen restaurant during the day, but partook in shadier activities during the night. Not shady as in shadily sexual, but shady as in wandering-about-the-dead-of-night-looking-for-serial-killers. He was a detective, you see, and he did his night job well. Despite his jokes, he was actually quite glad that Keiko was going to be a lawyer. They would make a killer team, him catching the criminals and her landing them behind bars.

Study sessions with Keiko became routine.

Most of them took place at a cozy cafe, tucked in a corner and hard to spot but well worth the walk. Yukina would swirl her latte and try to make a cat out of foam as she saw the barista demonstrate. Unfortunately, her efforts had yet to pay off. The foam didn’t seem to like her, aways swimming away from her stirring rod and forming some kind of uni-blob. She would have said unicorn blob, but it seemed blasphemous to compare her artistic disaster to such a majestic creature.

Yusuke frequently tracked them down, most likely to show off his detective skills and earn the right to glomp without reprimand.

The two girls switched it up every now and then, but Yusuke seemed to find them wherever they went, always popping up with that rakish grin and arms open in a ‘come hither’ manner. The man liked his hugs, alright.

Before long, Yukina found herself frequenting Yusuke’s ramen place.

Ramen was never really her thing, but the company more than made up of for it. Keiko was a social butterfly, but she was also Yukina’s only friend and when the brown-haired girl had to attend to other matters, Yukina found herself feeling lonelier than ever. Perhaps because, having had a taste of friendship, isolation now felt all the more unbearable.

Mochi ice cream and cheesecake and an assortment of desserts mysteriously found themselves added to the menu. Yusuke never failed to greet her enthusiastically and Yukina responded in kind. They didn’t talk much, but it was okay; they lapsed into companionable silence, Yusuke tending to the customers while Yukina relished the cheery atmosphere. Though she was almost never doing the talking, just being in the restaurant made her feel as though she was part of the conversation.

The days flew by as she attended to her studies. Keiko and Yusuke made up the entirety of her social network until one day, a large man with orange hair barged into the ramen place.

“Oi, Urameshi! Could you make me the usual? Maybe with extra tempura, that last test fried my brain and I need to comfort myself with food.”

From the kitchen came the sound of snickering.

“Again, Kuwabara? You sure fried food won’t further damage that brain of yours?”

“Shaddup. You know engineering is hell, I haven’t eaten a good meal in like three days leading up to the exam…”

“Maybe you could start studying in advance,” a smooth voice mused. It was a woman’s, and Yukina turned to observe a head of amber hair enter the restaurant. “Did wonders for me, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah, but lately I’ve been preoccupied by this uppity little brat who tries to kill me in my sleep.”


The newcomers settled down a few seats from Yukina. Before long, they noticed her inquiring look. The orange-haired man stilled, staring at her with a look that was not entirely unwelcome and not entirely unfamiliar. He had to blink a few times before opening his mouth to speak.

“H-Hello there!” The greeting came rushed and a bit loud. “I’m Kazuma Kuwabara! That’s my sister, Shizuru, and the guy in the back is my rival, Urameshi!”

The guy in the back, Urameshi, hollered something that might have been “Rival, my ass, you know I can trounce you!”

Yukina smiled. “I’m Yukina. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She held out her hand for the customary shake. Kuwabara took it with care. Then, Yukina turned to the woman with amber hair. “Nice to meet you too, Shizuru-san.”

“Shizuru is fine.” Once more, a warm palm enveloped hers. Shizuru’s hair slid across her shoulders. The faint scent of cigarettes tickled her nose, accompanied by a sweet spice. Yukina wasn’t sure what it was, but she liked it.

Kazuma and Shizuru Kuwabara were engineers. The older Kuwabara had already graduated, landing herself a job as an automotive engineer. Vehicles that roared and thundered down the road were her thing. In her spare time, she worked on a designing her personal motorbike.

The younger Kuwabara was still in college, struggling as a civil engineer. He claims he was doing just fine until Yusuke dragged him into some detective mess and landed a murderous brat in his apartment.

“I kid you not, that brat is evil,” he grumbled, nursing a large mug of beer. “He never sleeps and I wake up to red eyes across the room, like he wants to kill me with force of will or something.”

Yukina giggled, but lingered on the thought of red eyes. Her memories were fuzzy, and there weren’t many, but she recalled black hair and red eyes, a face just like hers. She didn’t want to get her hopes up, but the ‘murderous red-eyed brat’ remained in the back of her mind.

Yukina still spent much of her time with Keiko, but Kazuma Kuwabara began joining their study sessions. Math was Yukina’s strong suit and she was more than willing to help the poor man who often looked as though he was deprived of sleep.

There was also a marked increase in ramen consumption as Yukina frequented Yusuke’s place on Saturday evenings, on the lookout for an amber-haired woman.

“Thanks for taking care of my little bro,” Shizuru said, settling beside her with a mug of warm apple cider. There might have been alcohol mixed in, and a combination of spices too. Apple spice. That was the scent, Yukina identified.

There were two Kuwabaras and it had been decided that the younger was to be ‘Kuwabara’ while the older was ‘Shizuru.’

Shizuru had something of a routine, and hot apple cider on Saturday evenings was one of them. Yukina was quite certain such a drink was absent from most ramen restaurants, but this was Yusuke’s place and Yusuke was nothing if not adaptable. She took a sip of Shizuru’s cider and decided it was definitely alcoholic. Also, one of the spices had to be cinnamon.

Cinnamon apple spice, Yukina noted. It rolled off the tongue and evoked feelings of warmth and sweetness. She liked it. A lot.

Botan’s long awaited call came, filled with apologizes for contacting her so late.

“I’m so sorry,” she babbled, her voice filled with concern. “They sent me across the sea for a case and I was stranded on this island with no reception, then I got hospitalized because snipers are pure evil and my hospital was in the middle of no where which still didn’t have reception—”

Yukina hastened to assure Botan is was perfectly fine. She was more concerned to hear Botan had been shot, and voiced her worry.

“Are you alright, Botan?” she inquired. She held her phone tightly, the mint-green keychain jangling merrily.

“Oh, it’s just a flesh wound,” Botan chirped. Much to Yukina’s consternation. “I’ve had worse a few years back with the mafia. I’ll recover in few weeks. It was only a graze, nothing serious, no organs ruptured or anything!”

“That’s…good? Please take care of yourself!”

“Of course, hon! Don’t worry about me, I’ve been living this life for decades. Tell me about yourself! How’s it going? Is everything okay?”

Yukina reported that she made good friends and great grades. Botan made delighted noises and congratulated her wholeheartedly. She didn’t want to make any promises because her schedule was forever up in the air, but expressed a desire to drop by should she have the time.

Yukina smiled, and said not to worry about it. Botan was a busy woman, and Yukina did not want to get in the way of her work. Botan dismissed that as nonsense. Yukina was never trouble. She was determined to visit before Christmas. A warm feeling enveloping her heart, Yukina bid Botan goodbye and wished her the best.

Botan was part of the FBI, one of their best agents. She reported directly to the head of the department, a man named Koenma who was rumored to have a baby face and occasional tantrums.

A month ago, Botan had been assigned Yukina’s case. It was an ugly scenario involving human trafficking and child slavery. The ugly scenario only grew worse as conflict erupted and the entirely of the FBI burst upon the scene, determined to break up what appeared to be a massive trafficking ring with ties to an international mafia network.

Yukina escaped. She had to stab a man in the face on her way out, but he was the worst of her captors, so she did not feel too bad.

When the chaos died down, most victims went to therapy, then to orphanages and finally to willing families. Yukina was not most victims, however. She was eighteen, no longer a child thus less appealing to foster families. She had been with her captors for far longer than the others —that is, from the moment she was born, abandoned on the streets and ripe for the picking.

She recalled holding onto another warm body, one with black hair and red eyes. No such person was among the other victims, but Yukina had an inexplicable feeling that that person was still alive. He (she was sure it was a he) was out there and waiting and it was up to her to find him.

Botan took Yukina under her wing, at least for a single month. It was enough time to teach Yukina the ropes of normal society, things like college and careers and living by herself. Yukina might have been trafficked, but she was well-read because an intelligent child was much more appealing than one who couldn’t string two words together.

The weather grew colder and snow drifted from the sky, swathing the city in a chilly white haze.

Finals were far off, but Shizuru recommended studying well in advance. The future was never certain. Perhaps another murderous child will show up on Kuwabara’s doorstep, hogging the blankets and the best food. Kuwabara shuddered and said not to joke about such things.

Yusuke’s restaurant was more packed than ever, the flow of customers increased as people sought shelter from the biting cold. The cold didn’t bother Yukina, however, and she was more than happy to accompany Shizuru on a test run of her new motorbike.

“Before the frost sets in,” she said. “It’ll be hard to drive if the roads freeze over. Then I’d have to wait for spring to test this baby.”

Shizuru’s motorbike was sleek and black. The engine revved with a healthy roar, smelling of smoke and spice. They hit the road on a Saturday evening, the sun yet to set and the back roads clear of people.

Yukina wrapped her arms around Shizuru’s waist, the scent of cinnamon apple spice stronger than ever. The apple smell was strongest, however. Yukina suspected that was the scent of her shampoo.

They raced across town. The setting sun enveloped the city with a soft orange glow. It bounced off traces of snow, not enough to hinder the road, but enough to sparkle in the evening sun and convince Yukina she was the happiest girl alive.

By the time they were done, the sun had vanished beyond the horizon. Shizuru’s apartment was closer, so they went there to deposit the motorbike and warm themselves with a cup of tea. No cider, Shizuru apologized, because she liked her cider alcoholic and she had something to do tomorrow. Shizuru offered cupcakes instead, which Yukina accepted gladly.

Sleep never came easily to Yukina, but tonight it seemed to elude her completely. She lay on the couch, buried beneath a fluffy blanket, but could not will her mind to shut down. Shizuru had offered her own bed, but that was too much for Yukina. She couldn’t possibly impose. The couch would be fine, she insisted, especially considering her small stature.

She was first in the showers, and lay on the couch as Shizuru had her turn. A muted tune floated through the night. It was very soft. Yukina had to strain to hear it, but Shizuru’s melody was there, smooth and rich and making her heart flutter.

There was the sound of water hitting skin. Yukina could imagine wet hair clinging to a womanly frame, soapy water exploring each crevice and trickling down, down and down her fair skin until…

Heat rose to Yukina’s cheeks. If she strained even more, she could make out the scent of apples with a hint of smoke. She pulled the blanket over her head.

Shizuru, she thought. Shizuru, Shizuru, Shizuru.

The next morning, Shizuru raised an eyebrow and asked if everything was alright. A hint of pink colored her cheeks. Yukina assured her everything was fine. She was always like this, especially as classes picked up. Finals were creeping closer, it was probably the anxiety.

Shizuru had some business to attend to but Yukina’s place was along the way. So, they walked together on a sunny Sunday morning and stopped before an imposing building. A man with red hair emerged.

“Good morning, Shizuru,” he greeted amicably. He wore a pleasant smile and an impeccable suit. It seemed a bit much for a Sunday morning and Yukina shifted closer to Shizuru, feeling conscious of her overlarge cardigan and braided hair.

Shizuru inclined her head in greeting. “Good to see you, Kurama.”

They chatted over things Yukina had no firm grasp of. She fidgeted her leg with apprehension. Kurama was well-groomed and confident. He spoke gracefully, but something about him set her on edge. It wasn’t explicitly sinister, but the redhead reminded Yukina of places she would rather forget.

Eventually, Kurama’s eyes slid from Shizuru to the teal-haired girl hiding behind her.

“And who is this, if I may ask?”

Green eyes caught red and for a moment, Kurama was taken aback. Recognition flickered across his face, but it vanished just as abruptly as it came.

“Ah, this is Yukina,” Shizuru said, her familiar drawl easing the small girl’s nerves. Kurama was Shizuru’s friend, wasn’t he? He couldn’t be that bad. Probably.

“Pleased to meet you,” Yukina offered, making a small bow.

“The pleasure is mine,” he returned, nodding his head.

“Yukina, meet Kurama, head of, ah, numerous businesses, let’s say. Kurama, this is Yukina. I met her at Yusuke’s place. She’s goes to the same university as Keiko and Kuwabara. My little bro would probably tank his math class if it weren’t for her.”

“Is that so?” Kurama said, eyes glimmering with amusement. “Then I believe I owe you a coffee or two. I’ve been wondering why Kuwabara abandoned my assistance. It appears he’s found a new mentor, sparing my wallet of much exploitation.”

Kurama was an intimidating man but gradually, Yukina grew to enjoy his company. He liked espressos— piping hot, pitch-black bitterness without a single speck of sugar. Yukina didn’t know how he endured it.

His edge was still there, but Yukina felt its sharpness would never be directed at her. Kurama seemed inexplicably fond of her. It might have to do with the flash of recognition when they first met, but Yukina was sure it had to mean something when a guy who walked about in expensive suits and even more expensive cars managed to find the time to treat her to cake on a weekly basis.

“Do you like plants, Kurama-san?” Yukina inquired one day. Kurama had brought his laptop and she glimpsed a vivid green background. He paused in his rapid typing and offered a smile.

“Quite,” he said. “They prevent us from dying by asphyxiation, for one. Also, plants are very…useful if utilized correctly.” His smile grew a bit more mischievous. “I frequently employ them to punish unruly employees.”

Yukina grinned, and they left it at that.

Kurama seemed fond of her, and also fond of pictures. He often asked the waiter to take pictures of them and whatever cake Yukina had chosen. He forwarded the pictures to Yukina, and she saved them in a folder labelled “Good Times.”

Once, the waiter inquired if they were a couple.

Yukina giggled and Kurama smiled, but they denied any such involvement. Kurama, however, had a request.

“May I hold your hand?” He asked. “I have a friend who’s astounded by the idea that I’m capable of romantic feelings. A little joke, if you’d please.”

And because Kurama had been nothing but kind to her, Yukina readily agreed. She smiled her sweetest smile for the camera. (Days later, a red-eyed youth barged into Kurama’s office and demanded to know what the hell he was doing.)

Class intensified. Yukina found herself baking cupcakes to relax.

She started with simple flavors, right out of baking mixes. There was chocolate, then vanilla, then plain yellow. When she perfected baking mixes, she sought sugar and flour and eggs to bake a cake from scratch.

This proved more challenging, the right combination of ingredients at times eluding her. Her first couple attempts were quite unsightly. Edible, yes. But barely.

Between studying and baking and picking up botany from Kurama (He was in the middle of an affair with a specially crossbred Drosera plant, tailored to attack whichever unfortunate soul had the nerve to approach his desk without permission. Himself excluded, of course. Privately, Yukina wondered what kind of business he ran), Yukina had little time for much else.

Finals came and went.

Keiko invited her to celebrate at a new cafe, and Yukina accompanied her gladly. She was quietly laughing at Keiko’s latest installment of “Yusuke Tales” when a strange man approached them.

“You seem familiar,” he said, peering at Yukina. He had greasy hair and a thin nose. He was just passing by, and Yukina thought it was rather rude of him to impose on strangers so suddenly. “Where have I seen you before…?” The man pondered his hypothetical question before clasping his hands in an ah-ha gesture.

“You’re one of them,” he exclaimed, his stare taking a turn for the lewd. “One of the girls from that place.”

Yukina’s heart clenched. That place. He was one of them, from that world she so desperately strived to leave behind. The man looked at her, eyeing her up and down in a manner that made the hair on her arms rise. She reached for her keys, grabbing the small, mint-green keychain. At the same time, Keiko narrowed her eyes. In her hand was a #2 pencil, its sharpened tip gleaming.

The man approached, his lecherous grin further marring his unpleasant face. He reached out to Yukina, intent on doing something, but didn’t make it far before a sharp #2 pencil was embedded in his hand.

He howled.

And before he could so much as curse, Yukina turned on her keychain stun gun and electrocuted him with maximum voltage. While the man screamed in pain, the girls grabbed their bags and ran.

Kurama’s building was the closest refuge, so the girls headed that direction. The receptionist looked at them, two frazzled young women, and barely refrained from scoffing. What business did they have here?

“Excuse me,” Yukina said, a bit breathy from running several blocks. “May I talk to Kurama?”

The receptionist arched an eyebrow. “What business do you have with him?”

“Um, no business, really. He’s a friend, and…Could you leave a message? Please?”

The receptionist looked skeptical, but picked up the phone and dialed for Kurama. “Hello? Yes, this is the front desk. There’s a pair of girls down here, saying you’re their friend and…what do they look like? One of them has green hair and red eyes, the other…oh. You’ll be down? Oh, uh, okay. Sure thing.” The receptionist put down the phone with a touch of disbelief.

“He’ll be down here shortly.”

Yukina gave a sigh of relief. Keiko touched her shoulder, squeezing.

Kurama appeared and apologized for the wait. He had seen them running from his window. He had also seen a suspiciously disheveled man wandering about the area, but he had thankfully failed to come this way.

The girls followed him to the top floor. Briefly, Yukina caught a glimpse of spiky black hair. Then, she was ushered into Kurama’s office.

Drosera the carnivorous plant sat on his desk. Keiko and Yukina settled into cushiony chairs and relayed what had happened. Kurama’s expression darkened. Yukina swore she heard a curse from behind the wall.

Yukina fiddled her thumbs and crossed her ankles and looked anywhere but Kurama for a good five minutes before she quietly asked if he wanted more information.

Kurama’s expression darkened further. Yukina was not intimidated, however, for she knew his anger was not directed at her. With effort, he schooled his countenance into something less menacing.

“It is alright if you say nothing,” he said, crossing his fingers atop his desk. “Due to my…history, I believe I can take care of things without rehashing unpleasant memories.”

Yukina nodded weakly.

“Okay. Thank you, Kurama-san. If you need me, though, feel free to ask. I’m good.”

A pause. Yukina’s sickly countenance begged to differ.

“Mostly,” she tacked on, a bit lamely.

Tiny fingers fumbled across each other and clenched. The movement was not unnoticed by Kurama. The carnivorous plant seemed to pulse erratically, as though picking up on its owner’s foul mood.

Keiko scooted closer and put a firm arm around Yukina’s shoulder. Kurama promised he’d sort things out. In the meantime, someone would escort the girls home. Yusuke and Keiko were well-versed with this kind of situation. Kurama knew for a fact that the couple was armed and dangerous. Yukina, on the other hand, may need a bodyguard until the situation was handled.

He made a call, and two individuals entered his office.

One was an elderly woman with a fierce look in her eyes, intimidating despite her small stature. Keiko’s face lit up, greeting her as Master Genkai. The old woman huffed, and asked her what the brats managed to get themselves into this time.

The other figure made Yukina’s breath hitch.

He was a slender young man with black hair and red eyes. The same as hers. Red found red and for a moment, the world seemed to stop. Then, he averted his gaze. He grunted.


Aside from that, he made no greeting. He did, however, shoot a look at Kurama, whose eyes had folded into upturned crescents. Combined with his interlaced fingers, he looked criminally devious.

Hiei was his name, Yukina found out. He and Genkai made no introductions aside from a basic form of address. The girls were guided home, Yukina and Hiei separating from Keiko and Genkai.

“Hiei-san,” Yukina addressed, opening her apartment door. “Would you like to come in?”

A shake of the head. “I need to secure the parameters.”

“I see.”

She hesitated a moment more, but Hiei vanished in a dark blur. With a vague sense of disappointment, Yukina shut the door.

The electric feeling of red meeting red had yet to fade. He was the one. She was sure of it. And she had a niggling feeling that he knew it too. Yet he seemed disinclined to pursue the matter.

Yukina wandered her living room, pacing back and forth. Perhaps he had his reasons. The underworld had not been kind to her, after all. Botan was surprised she came out as sound as she had. Hiei reminded her of herself at her coldest hours; terse, unwelcoming, and unwilling to communicate with anyone. Only with exceptional patience and coaxing did Botan manage to bring her out of her shell.

Maybe Hiei was like that. Still in his shell, having not met a person who could wheedle their way into his steel-encased heart.

But it was a cold winter day. The wind howled and Yukina picked up movement near her window. Curious, she approached with caution.

It was the dead of night, but one corner of her balcony seemed darker than the rest. How did Hiei manage to get up there? Her apartment was on the fifth floor. Shaking her head, Yukina allowed a tiny smile.

She riffled through her closet and found a spare blanket. There was a chair on that balcony, she was sure. A table too. Green tea seemed a safe choice for anyone. Just in case, though, Yukina added a packet of sugar onto the small platter. Then, when her own stomach made a growl of discontent, she threw in a chocolate cupcake as well.

She opened the balcony door very, very slowly. The darkest shadow, hovering about the chair, didn’t move. Yukina refrained from turning on the lights. Carefully, so as not to frighten away her dear visitor, Yukina placed the blanket on the table. The platter of food shortly followed.

Yukina made her retreat and closed the door firmly. It was unlocked, for Hiei was the only one on that balcony. Under his watch, Yukina knew there would be no intruders (Unless Hiei got hungry, of course. She left a larger platter of food on the kitchen table. Hiei was free to help himself if he cared to wander inside).

When Yukina woke up, the first thing she did was check the balcony. The teacup was half full, an empty packet of sugar beside it. A few crumbs peppered the cupcake liner. Atop the chair was her blanket, folded into a neat square. Hiei was nowhere to be found.

Returning to the kitchen, however, Yukina realized the food platter seemed more paltry than before. There was an excess of savory foods. The cupcakes, however, were entirely absent.

She grinned. Hiei liked sweets, did he? She’ll have him try the hot chocolate next time.

Her phone was alight with text messages. It was Shizuru. Kurama told her what was happening. She was free and had a mean right hook, especially when equipped with brass knuckles. She’ll be accompanying Yukina during the day. It went unspoken, but Yukina understood that Hiei will be attending to her at night.

Finals were over and Yukina had little to do over winter break. Aside from her elusive night guard, Keiko and Yusuke and the rest of Yukina’s little circle of friends were the closest she had to family.

She spent winter break visiting each of them, Shizuru in tow as the streets filled with suspicious characters.

She sent a message to Botan. Things were getting messy, she wrote. But it was okay. She had friends. There was a man named Kurama and a detective named Yusuke and two guardians whom she adored. Kurama felt like the brains of their operation, however, so Yukina gave Botan his number.

In the meantime, Yukina avoided shady alleyways and surreptitiously experimented with apple spice cupcakes.

Across the globe, Botan saw Kurama’s number and had the slightest inkling that she had seen it before. A few years back, there was this case with a mafia boss that had been absolutely hellish, some silver-haired scoundrel driving her up the wall. Literally.

The number of suspicious characters in town only increased as time passed.

Making her way home from the grocery store, Yukina gave a start of surprise as a passerby lunged at her. “You’re that green-haired bi—” Shizuru’s brass knuckle rammed into the side of his head. He sprawled onto the ground, unconscious. She heaved a long, worn sigh.

“There’s no end to these idiots,” Shizuru muttered. “What is so hard to understand about not assaulting people?” She walked toward Yukina, hovering about her vicinity and giving the stink eye to people passing by.

This was one of many, many attempts on Yukina’s life in the past week. She had considered holing up in her apartment, but the assailants had no qualms with kicking at her door. Shizuru would open the door and respond by kicking them where it hurts, but the assailants were ceaseless.

Yukina also woke during the night, disturbed by sounds of battle on her balcony. She made out snarls and curses, one time waking up to “Don’t touch my food with your filthy fingers,” followed by the sound of something snapping. The following morning, she poked her head through the balcony door and saw the remnants of hastily cleaned bloodstains.

Given that the assailants frequently invaded her home, Yukina decided she might as well carry on with life rather than cease her day-to-day activities.

The weather grew colder still. Yukina tried to convince Hiei to take up residence in her living room rather than the frosty balcony. When he finally acquiesced, she furtively loaded the kitchen counter with food.

“I’m experimenting,” Yukina said. “I’ve been trying to perfect the flavor, but I won’t improve without practice. I can’t eat all these by myself. If it’s not an imposition, could you…?”

Wordlessly, a chocolate cupcake was devoured.

Yukina beamed.

Kurama was giving him a Look. Hiei would have ignored it as per usual if it weren’t for the fact that Kurama was a foot taller than him and was dangling a bag of cupcakes out of reach. His stomach was empty. The sun had barely risen. He had spent the night breaking a man’s ribs for knocking his last double chocolate cupcake off the balcony. Then, after waltzing into Kurama’s office to deposit a comatose body, he was a bit peeved to have both the body and the remaining cupcakes snatched from his hands.

“What,” Hiei gritted out. What did he have to do to eat his damn cupcake?

The comatose man was carried off by blacked-suited individuals, no doubt to Kurama’s interrogation chamber where he’ll enjoy the company of oversized venus fly traps.

“You haven’t told Yukina,” Kurama said disapprovingly. He shook the plastic bag as though to emphasize his point. “You no longer have an excuse not to.”

Hiei tried to kick him in the shins. Kurama dodged. The cupcakes bounced in the plastic bag. As if to further mock him, Kurama lowered his arm so the bag was inches from his face.

Hiei wanted to snarl. He knew that if he made a grab for it, Kurama would dance out of reach, those damnable reflexes of his reacting faster than his fingers.

He looked away. “It’s for her own good.”

Kurama frowned. “In the past, that was a tolerable excuse. You only knew that Yukina was alive. You didn’t know if she was affiliated with the underworld. Now, however, it’s clear that she’ll be targeted whether or not the world recognizes her as your sister. There is nothing to lose.”

Silence. Hiei did not reply. Kurama looked on for a while longer before giving a sigh.

“…But that’s not what this is about, is it?” he said gently. “It’s about you."

Hiei stiffened. He refused to look at Kurama, finding something fascinating about the office floor.

“You know that Yukina was part of the underworld. But, having met her, you’re convinced she couldn’t have been among the hitmen. Therefore, she had to be something else — a victim, most likely, of the underworld’s crimes. You’re afraid you’ll frighten her with the blood on your hands.”

There was a rustle of plastic wrappings. Hiei felt something on his head. He whipped his head up, incensed, only to hasten to grab a falling cupcake. Kurama held another one, looking at him kindly.

“Yukina’s more than she seems, Hiei. I’ve been around her longer than you. I can promise you she’s no stranger to bloodshed.”

A pause. Kurama examined Hiei, who aggressively ate his cupcake.

“Or perhaps it is not Yukina you fear. It’s the idea of love.”

Hiei skillfully produced a scoffing sound without choking on his cupcake. Kurama waved his own cupcake at him, tutting.

“Don’t laugh, Hiei. Love is a thing and you’ll have to deal with it eventually. Only, you’ve spent far too long pretending you’re incapable of emotion and now, you find yourself fearful of regaining them.”

Hiei finished his cupcake. He stared at Kurama stonily.

It was one thing when Kurama was being a smarmy bastard. That was fine. That was when anger came to him easily and he could try to maul that pretty face to test his capabilities. It was when Kurama’s eyes were filled with kindness that Hiei found himself at a loss for words. Even worse, when Kurama was being nice about being right.

“Hmph. And what do you expect me to do about it?” he asked sardonically.

Kurama hmmed thoughtfully. He took a bite of his cupcake while Hiei tapped his foot impatiently. The redhead made a pleased noise before deigning to continue.

“I’m sure Yukina has an idea of who you are. She’s just being courteous and not mentioning it. When this situation is resolved, I want you to spend more time with her — quality time, not guard duty, Hiei. The wonders of human conversation might ease your nerves. Then, I have a feeling the problem will solve itself.” His eyes twinkled. “Yukina is more than she seems,” he repeated.

He finished the rest of his cupcake. One more remained in the plastic bag. With a grin, he dangled it before Hiei.

“Now, promise me you’ll talk to Yukina and this lovely cupcake will be yours.”

Hiei, who was so close to making a vague noise of assent, growled. “I would have done so anyway, you stupid fox.” His hand flashed forward. Amused, Kurama let him have the last cake.

“Those cupcakes really are lovely,” he mused.

Hiei scoffed, guarding said cupcake jealously.

“Of course they are.” Kurama looked at him inquiringly. There was a brief silence. Then, “Yukina made them,” Hiei admitted, as though giving up some terrible secret. Kurama’s grin stretched ever wider. Hiei contemplated throwing something at him, but the cupcake was the only thing on hand and he sure wasn’t throwing that, so he settled for a murderous glare.

“Mind your own business, you nosy bastard.” And with such amicable parting words, Hiei jumped out the window.

Shizuru’s knuckles are stained with blood. Their assailants surrounded them, four of them with wicked faces. She picked herself off the ground.

“Go,” she growled.

“Shizuru-san…” Yukina hesitated, but knew any dallying would only waste Shizuru’s efforts. “Thank you.” Then she bolted. Only, not really.

She ran a little ways ahead, only to loop around and approach the scene from another angle. Shizuru, fending off two assailants. The other two, standing around to watch, for the battle was clearly in their favor. From her overlarge cardigan, she pulled a piece of cloth. It only took a moment to douse it in a clear chemical. Then, without a sound, Yukina approached one of the assailants from behind.

“Hmpf—!” Before the observer could so much as scream, his vision faded and his body slackened. Unconscious, he fell to the ground. The impact alerted the other spectator, but by the time she turned her head, Yukina was upon her. The cloth wouldn’t work fast enough, so Yukina jammed a needle into the woman’s arm. Moments later, she too hit the ground.


Yukina turned her head. Shizuru had finished with the other two assailants, and was looking at her with wide eyes. She gave a wane smile.

“Are you alright, Shizuru-san?”

“Yeah, nothing I can’t survive but…wow kid. You’re full of surprises, aren’t you?” Blood lined her knuckles, but her assailants’ faces were far worse. She also had a few scrapes from being tackled to the ground, but appeared otherwise fine.

“I’m no good in a brawl, ” Yukina explained. “But I have a few tricks up my sleeve for opponents who let down their guard.” She offered her hand. “Let’s go home, shall we? I can patch you up and treat you to something nice.”

“A bar, you say?”

“Y-Yes, between the park and the finance buildings, hidden in a little corner! That’s the place! T-T-The place everyone goes to, I’m sure!”

“I see.” Lithe fingers stroked a metal whip. It was segmented into a dozen sections, every inch covered in minuscule spikes. It didn’t leave a clean cut — it shredded the skin with thousand lacerations, drenched in the redhead’s choice of poison.

Several candles lit the musty interrogation chamber. Melted wax dripped slowly, disfiguring the candles so at times, the captive could swear he saw human faces. Nestled in the corners were enormous plants with oddly fleshy leaves. Kurama shifted, and for a moment, the plant pulsated. As though taking a breath, the plant lifted a fleshy leaf and revealed a pool of red in its center. The captive swallowed. Despite the coldness of the room, his body was lined with perspiration.

“One more thing,” Kurama said. He pulled something from his pocket. Before the man was a blurry picture. He made out a thin nose and greasy hair. “Do you recognize this man?”

The captive studied the picture intently. A drop of sweat trickled down his neck. Kurama’s whip glinted in the candlelight.

“I…Yes. Yes I do,” the captive stammered. “That’s Hirue, I think. He was one of Tarukane’s men. He was in on the human trafficking and always going on about this one girl…”

The metallic whip uncoiled. “What girl?” Kurama inquired, voice colder than ice.

“A green-haired girl!” The man yelped. He spoke rapidly, trying to get all the words out in one go. “I have nothing to do with them, I swear, I was just a lowly underling, I only saw this from a distance! Th-Tha-That guy was Tarukane’s second in command and he went on and on about a captive who Tarukane wouldn’t let him see! He was always trying to break into her room and get a glimpses of her because Tarukane was so protective, and he went on and on about things he wanted to…do…”

The captive’s voice trailed off. His mouth moved, but no sound came out. The metal whip slithered in the redhead’s hands, catching the candlelight so each spike glistened with a promise of pain. His eyes were green daggers, skewering the victim of his gaze. Finally, in a frigid voice, he spoke.

“I see.”

“What on earth are these?” Shizuru asked. Her eyes were wide with amazement. In her freshly bandaged hands, she held a small golden pastry.

“Apple spice cupcakes,” Yukina beamed. Then, in a subdued voice. “They’re alcoholic. Yusuke got me the vodka.”

“You're a godsend.”

In the warm glow of Yukina’s kitchen, they bumped their cupcakes.

“To our continued survival.”

In the middle of the day, Kurama sauntered into a bar and handed innocuous drinks to unsuspecting men. Moments later, they were emptying the contents of their stomach on the floor. Kurama took a delicate step back while his dark-haired companion recoiled with disgust.

“Was that necessary?” Hiei grumbled, eyeing the vomit with distaste.

“Not at all,” Kurama beamed. “Just giving them the greeting they deserve.”

The men ceased to vomit, only to start foaming at the mouth. Hiei took an additional step back. Kurama carefully sidestepped the vomit and nudged one of them with his foot so he could see the back of their hand. It was riddled with pencil lead and electrical burns. His smile turned downright sinister.

“This one is special,” he mused, crushing spindly fingers beneath his shoe. The man would’ve been screaming had his mouth not been filled with organic foam. “I’m sure he’s a wonderful conversationist. I’d like to spent some private time with him, introduce him my extensive collection of delightful appliances.”

“…” Hiei further retreated, wondering, not for the first time, if Kurama was truly as ‘reformed’ as he claimed he was.

Kurama insisted he was a mafia boss who saw the light, but with his proficiency at brewing poison, Hiei oft suspected him of being a drug lord on the side. Then Kurama materialized a pair of handcuffs from no where and Hiei reconsidered. Not a drug lord, then. Extremely corrupt police chief, perhaps?

They cuffed the two men and went on their merry way, witnesses standing aside for this bar was a renowned meeting place for agents of the underworld. Only, this bar also happened to be in Kurama’s territory and all who frequented knew better than to cross the former leader of one of the most fearsome mafia families of all time.

Youko Kurama was his name, and though he’d done away with hair dye and contacts, he was plenty terrifying in his natural form.

His underground business was converted into something less illegal, largely due to the efforts of a blue-haired FBI agent who was absolutely done with chasing him around the world. Youko and the agent had some friendly chats over flames and gunfire about morals and ethics and an angelic older woman who would be devastated with his life choices.

Eventually, her buddha-like patience and dogged persistence got to him. Youko Kurama vanished into the night, replaced by the far more amicable Kurama Minamino. Despite his reformation, however, Kurama retained every bit of his shadier capabilities.

In a single night, the captives were spilling their guts.

Gonzo Tarukane was in town. The FBI was onto him, his end was nigh. Before being put behind bars, however, he wanted revenge against a green-haired girl who skewered his face during her escape from his trafficking ring. The entirety of his family was aware of this to some degree. They either abandoned him or followed him here, indulging in petty crimes and enacting revenge against whomever they wished.

Hearing of a green-haired girl in trafficking, Hiei joined the interrogating, intent on digging out every last detail. It was not a pretty picture.

Tarukane was a depraved fucker, infatuated with children half his age. Gender didn’t matter. If they had an orifice, they were susceptible to his lechery. Yukina in particular was his most frequent victim, if only because she never allowed him to cross that last line. She bit him, she scratched him, she laced herself with poison. She charmed the less depraved ‘visitors’ until Tarukane was a laughingstock, the green-haired maiden sheltered by men even more powerful than him.

Tarukane couldn’t leave marks, but he screamed obscenities at her and covered her room with dead sparrows, baby birds he knew she cherished. He tormented her friendliest guards, making her watch as her companions bled to death on the floor. And she cried, cried and cried until one day she cried no more, speaking to no one, not even when threatened with death.

To the world at large, it would appear as though Yukina was a walking corpse. Her face held no expression, her eyes so devoid of life that visitors often mistook her for an inanimate doll. The only time she came alive was when Tarukane got a bit too handsy, springing to life if only pummel his lower body.

For years, this continued.

Until one day, life returned to the observant girl’s eyes. She sensed discord in the organization and made a run for it. Her prediction was correct. The FBI was on their doorstep, moments away from arresting the entire organization. In the chaos of avoiding law enforcement, very few cared that the green-haired girl made her escape.

Except for Tarukane.

To Tarukane, Yukina was no longer a common victim. She was his nemesis, a personal foe he wouldn’t let go of until he made her pay for all the humiliation she wrought upon him. Tarukane gave chase, but without his men, he was an overweight toadstool with little fighting capability. Yukina slashed him across the face and ran on, right into Botan’s waiting arms.

The FBI was closing in and Tarukane had no choice but to retreat. From that day forward, Yukina was free and Tarukane vowed vengeance even if it killed him.

In the dim light of Kurama’s interrogation chamber, Hiei hit a man so hard the fracturing of his skull was audible. Behind him, Kurama’s face was marred with such darkness that the remaining man began writhing in his chair, unable to bear the palpable killing intent radiating off him.

Without a word, they reached a mutual consensus.

Tarukane had to die.

The FBI is cleaning out the last of Tarukane’s bases up north, the message read. His empire is falling, but he was renowned for his lavish tastes. There are certain businesses tied to his network, and he is likely to reside at such locations.

— Agent B.

Attached to the email was a map and an address. With a hard expression, Kurama forwarded it to Hiei.

He’s there, Kurama texted.

Immediately, there was a reply.

He’s dead.

With grim satisfaction, Kurama shut his phone.

“You ought to thank her,” Hiei said, approaching with a sleek machete. “Your new face is a marked improvement from before. Perhaps people will no longer mistake you for a talking ass.”

Almost experimentally, he sliced the space before him. There was a sharp hiss as the air dissipated. Hiei’s face bore a deep scowl. His red eyes glimmered in the darkness, alight with such hatred that the pudgy man took a step back only to trip over a fur rug.

“Y-You stay away from me, you bastard!” Tarukane hollered. He waved a gun at Hiei, making an attempt at intimidation which might have been more impressive had he not resembled an overgrown ass which bore a suspicious stain. The blade flickered, and Tarukane found himself wishing he surrendered to law enforcement while he had the chance.

“Things have been taken care of,” Kurama said.

“Um.” Yusuke fiddled with his fork. Beside him, Keiko sipped tea fastidiously. Furtively, they traded looks. Kurama continued to smile beatifically.

The couple decided not to ask.

“Alright. We’ll tell Yukina!”

The little cafe could barely hold all of them, but it was a place everyone frequented and a place with very accommodating staff. A bunch of tables were pushed together. Yukina took a seat beside Shizuru. The staff offered them a little basket of cookies. Before long, Keiko approached with Yusuke in tow. Kuwabara followed with a grim-looking boy, grumbling something about personal space.

“Why can’t you live with Kurama,” Yukina made out as they entered the cafe. “Since you never shut up about how he’s better than me.”

A scoff. “We would suffocate under the weight of our respective egos. You, on the other hand, lack the brain cells to quality as a living organism. As the only intelligent being in your apartment, I essentially have it all to myself.”

“Why you —!” Kuwabara made a grab at Hiei, which the boy deftly avoided. Yusuke saw their scuffle and cackled from his seat.

“Need a hand, Kuwabara? The shrimp too much for you?”

“Bugger off, Urameshi! The shrimp is mean and you know it!”

“Now, now, gentlemen.” Hiei gave a start as a red-haired man materialized behind him. “Since Hiei’s been complimenting me without my knowledge, I must ask you to refrain from picking on his…compact stature.”

“Kurama,” Hiei growled. He shoved his hands in his pockets and threw himself into the seat opposite of Yukina, glaring at the latest newcomer.

“Kurama!” Kuwabara exclaimed, “When did you get here?”

With a demure smile, Kurama pulled up a seat. “Almost the same time as you. I must say, your earlier conversation with Hiei was fascinating. I didn’t know he held me in such high regard.” To his left, Hiei made animalistic noises. Across the table, Yukina refrained from giggling.

Just before food was served, a blue-haired woman dashed through the doors, panting as she made her way to their table.

“Yukina!” she cried. She was in a trench coat and a heavy suitcase dangled from her hands.

“Botan-san,” Yukina greeted warmly, getting up to take the suitcase off her hands. “It’s so good to see you!”

“Botan?” Yusuke exclaimed, sitting bolt upright in his seat. “Botan as in Botan the Grim Reaper? There are legends about you! You started as a detective before turning into a spy, and finally climbing up the ranks as the FBI’s best investigator!”

“Ehehe,” Botan chuckled, blushing at the praise. “The rumors exaggerate!”

“…Botan?” At the soft baritone, Botan stiffened. She turned. Green eyes stared her down with intensity. Her eyes widened. “…You..ko…?” Kurama’s eyes folded into crescents. He smiled, a disarming expression with a hint of slyness. “So we meet again, Grim Reaper.” Imaginary lightening seemed to flash between the two, but half the table was impervious to dense atmospheres.

“Come now, Botan! Tell us all about your top secret assignments! Were you involved in this case? Spill the beans, we’re all friends here!”

Yusuke’s ironclad obliviousness and overwhelming charisma guided their table into raucous conversation. Kurama’s eyes twinkled and Botan’s hair stuck up at ninety-degree angles, but they, too, partook in the banter and set aside their mysterious dissidence to relish the celebration.

The food arrived. Everyone appeared to be having a grand old time, save for a single dark-haired boy who retained his irate scowl. Other than lobbing insults at people who attempted to make conversation with him, he was largely silent. It did not escape Yukina’s notice that in light of their sizable table, most of the food was large, savory, and piled around the center. The food directly before Hiei was none other than brussel sprouts.

She looked about the room, discretely waving over the server. After a few hushed words, the server nodded in understanding. Moments later, he returned with two foamy cups of latte — double mocha flavored, with two packs of sugar and extra cream. Carefully, Yukina placed a cup before her. Then, she stared across the conjoined tables. Before long, red eyes found hers. She smiled.

“Would you like a latte, Hiei?” She pushed the second cup toward him. His gaze flickered downward, regarding the cup with curiosity. Then he looked back at her. She continued to smile, returning his gaze. He hesitated. Then, he reached for the cup.

“Of course.”

The cup slid across the table. Hiei placed it before him, but paused, not yet taking a sip. Behind him, the server beamed. Hiei closed his eyes. For the briefest second, a wry smile crossed his lips. Then, he raised his cup. Yukina’s smile didn’t grow wider, but it got warmer. She mirrored his motion. They were too far to clink the cups against each other, but the sentiment was there.

Yukina brought the cup to her mouth, the word “sister” becoming blurred as the milky foam vanished between her lips. Across the table, Hiei was in much the same predicament, a little foam mustache adorning his face as the word “brother” was downed with half the latte.

To the right, Kurama paused his intensive staring of the FBI agent to toss a smile their way.

It was not everyday that long lost siblings were reunited for good.

~ Christmas ~

“…What is this,” Hiei said, a tad disbelieving. In his hand was what appeared to be a mustache necklace. Yukina, straight faced, pulled out a matching mustache and said, “A symbol of my love for you.”

There was a pregnant silence. Hiei was speechless. This was Yukina, his precious sister. He…he couldn’t possibly say no, but a mustache…Despite his best efforts, his face contorted.


Unable to contain it anymore, Yukina burst into laughter.

“I’m joking, Hiei-nisan.” It took a while, but Hiei had embraced the suffix and was now quite fond of it. From her cardigan, Yukina pulled a small box. Inside was two halves of the yin yang symbol. Black and white. Duality and inseparability. Two parts of the same whole.

She held the box out to Hiei.

“This is my real present. I…I hope you like it.” She gave a little bow. Hiei’s eyes widened.

“Hmph,” he said, but his voice lacked any heat. “Don’t worry yourself. I only take what I want.” He reached for the black half. Behind the Christmas tree came unsubtle “awws” and sniffling noises. Yukina smiled as Hiei whipped out a wooden sword, stomping forward to salvage his callous reputation.

The party was in full swing. Seeing as everyone was of age, Yusuke spiked all the drinks in the house. He now hovered about with a camera, intent on building his blackmail collection. Unbeknownst to him, Keiko hovered behind him, intent on adding yet another installment to her extensive collection of Yusuke Tales. Kurama had cornered Botan on the balcony. Hiei was busy dumping punch over Kuwabara’s head after one too many ‘little man’ jokes. Shizuru sat on the couch, mug of hot (and alcoholic) apple cider on the table before her.

“Shizuru-san,” Yukina called, making her way to the couch. She took a seat, tucking herself against the amber-haired woman. Shizuru nodded in greeting. “Yukina.” She offered her some cider, but Yukina declined. She had something else in mind.

“It’s Christmas,” Yukina mused, looking at Shizuru pointedly. In her hair was a sprig of mistletoe. Her cheeks were tinted red, a stark contrast from her usual pallor. “I convinced Yusuke to break out the good booze,” she murmured. “That was my present to you. And the cupcakes. Always the cupcakes.” She leaned closer. “Shizuru-san…do you have a present for me? It’s only fair, after all.”

Shizuru brought the cider to her mouth. The drink flowed past her lips, leaving a wet film which glistened in the light of the Christmas tree. All of a sudden, Yukina thought of cigarettes and cinnamon apple spice.

“I suppose so.”

Amber hair slid past lithe shoulders and for a moment, their lips touched.

“Call me Shizuru.”