01. Needles

"Kuwabara told me why you've been in such a bad mood lately."

The boy shut his eyes and released a harsh breath at the sound of her voice. Typical Keiko - of course she found him.

The last peals of the school bell hung in the air, but Yusuke kept to his spot. He remained quiet - tucked comfortably underneath a shady tree, arms folded behind his head, scowling and annoyed she'd somehow managed to discover his hiding place… again. For once, the delinquent didn't care about picking a fight and hoped blatant rudeness would send the message instead.

But if there was one thing Yusuke couldn't stand about Keiko, she was too stubborn to take a fucking hint.

Aware of her cinnamon eyes just staring at him, Yusuke glanced up. She would stand there all goddamn day until he answered her. Keiko's thin, dainty eyebrows were drawn together, and she held her briefcase stiffly across her chest.

"Yeah, and…?"

"We're just- I mean... I'm just worried about you," she began anxiously, "He said you're upset because you wish you could find someone stronger…

"Doesn't that sound like what Toguro wanted?"

The words sunk in, snapping the detective out of his apathy, and he stared at her in disbelief. Silence hung, heavy and uncomfortable, in the air between them.

Yusuke knew Keiko clearly didn't realize the implications of what she said. He'd never told her all the details of his mentor's thorny relationship with his most dangerous rival. Never mentioned how even a week out, Genkai's strained last breath, Kuwabara's lifeless body, Keiko's hollow eyes - they all left an acrid taste in his mouth. That Yusuke felt so stupid for ever admiring him and resented himself for pining after what Toguro had. That there might have been a sliver of truth to her concern…

It wasn't her fault, and yet-

Yusuke rose to his feet, shoulders squared, standing a few inches too close to feel comfortable - intimidation tactics honed from years of getting into fights and establishing his bad reputation. A small part of him reveled in finally being tall enough to leer down at her. "Don't compare me to Toguro," he spat.

The venom laced in the boy's voice was so thick, it practically stung. He adopted the aggressive posture for delinquents foolish enough to challenge him - or Kuwabara - but never for her. It felt wrong. However, the girl didn't take a step back; even now, she had no reason to be afraid of Yusuke. Keiko bit her lip and pushed her hair behind her ear nervously. "...It's just that, I get this is all for your job, but now it's almost like you're asking for a fi-"

"Listen, Keiko, I didn't ask for shit."

Keiko flinched at his language, and he took a second to feel good about it. "I never asked for anything," he continued. "All I tried to do was save that kid. And 'cause of that, me and Kuwabara and Botan and the rest of us have almost kicked the bucket more times than I can count." She hugged her bag a little tighter. "This has been my life for the last ten months; you've known for two weeks. So don't come with the lecture acting like you understand it."

Dammit. Of course she didn't understand. He didn't understand. Fighting, getting stronger, being a Spirit Detective, for a short while, distracted him from his stupid, depressing life. But he tapped his well of opponents dry in less than a year, and here he was again - ditching class, nursing Ma's hangovers, feeling isolated and angry, as if nothing had ever changed.

He glared, frustrated. It's not like he wanted to risk his own (or anybody else's) life again anytime soon, but it didn't change the fact that not risking it left him bored.

She stood stock-still, concern etched across pretty features, but at a loss for anything to say. Yusuke knew he wasn't being fair - he could think of a dozen Kasanegafuchi jerks to take his anger out on before he took it out on Keiko - but continued anyway, bristling, "So you can dish out the bitching but can't take it, huh?"

Keiko did step backwards after all. Tears welled in her eyes, eyelashes glistening, but he wasn't in the mood to take it back.

…That didn't mean he wanted to see her cry either. "Shit," he hissed. Yusuke looked away just as the droplets spilled over and left her standing there as he stalked off, hands buried deep in his pockets.

If Kuwabara's sixth sense was worth a damn, it'd keep his dumb ass far away from him.


Author's Note: As much as I make Yusuke x Keiko so fluffy in my head, I really appreciate the more problematic aspects of Yusuke's character and their relationship. Every time I go back and watch YYH, I'm impressed with how complex he is underneath a deceptively straightforward personality. So I triiied… Set somewhere between the end of the Dark Tournament and the beginning of Chapter Black.