A/N: I recently rewatched parts of YYH and was left feeling that I'd never given Yusuke enough credit, and my ramblings on the subject sort of coalesced into this half-meta ficlet from Genkai's pov. This nearly fell into the black hole but I finally found the time and energy to rescue it. Thanks to ThePrincessOfDarkness and hqri for beta.)
By the Dark Tournament's third round, Genkai was laughing at herself.
She had come prepared to deal with a whiny, self-absorbed Yusuke who couldn't get anyone to depend on him if he tried (which he wouldn't). Having only been with Yusuke when he was training with her, that was the only way she knew him to act. Accordingly, she was ready to gain the trust of the rest of the team and take charge of them if leadership was called for. She'd even gone to the trouble of impressing them with her win in the pre-tournament battle royale before she realized her mistake.
She had never seen Yusuke amongst his own. Never seen him where he was liked and respected and looked to for leadership by those older and stronger than him. And because she couldn't believe he was actually trying to turn himself into the leader each of them needed, she had to believe he did it naturally.
She'd seen him and Kuwabara together before, of course, but at a time when they were equals and rivals. Not like this, fully invested in a mutual goal. Yusuke was constantly, constantly teasing and berating Kuwabara, but only in the manner of teenage boys with their most secretly beloved friends. A fair number of "be carefuls" and "don't dies" also made it into the conversation alongside the abuse. It was definitely what Kuwabara needed from a leader.
Not to mention, Yusuke was known to occasionally "get too busy" and dump an important task on Kuwabara. This would inevitably result in Kuwabara cussing him out and then, just as inevitably, preening and bragging about how lucky they were he was around to pick up the slack for that irresponsible loser, Urameshi. In a situation where Kuwabara was outclassed by literally everyone around him, friend and foe alike, the fact that he was always taking over for Yusuke became Kuwabara's source of identity and pride. He called himself the "real" leader of Team Urameshi, but it was blindingly obvious that he would have followed Yusuke anywhere.
But the ability to lead Kuwabara could have sprung from their longtime friendship, from their similar backgrounds. It was their other teammates, and how differently Yusuke treated them from Kuwabara or each other, that made Genkai realize what a mistake it had been to confuse the "pissed off student" attitude Yusuke showed her with his actual personality.
Hiei got maybe a tenth of the words from Yusuke that Kuwabara did. But there were moments when it seemed like he had known Yusuke longer than any of them. Yusuke's attitude towards Hiei was complex and nuanced: inclusion mixed with respectful distance, animosity alongside trust. It showed a much more subtle understanding of another person than Genkai would have believed her dimwit capable of.
Before long Genkai realized it was Hiei's easiness in Yusuke's company that gave the impression of a long association between them. It might also have had something to do with the way Yusuke would often mirror Hiei's posture when they were standing in a group. Or was it Hiei who mirrored Yusuke? Either way, the two of them were a team within the team. There was no question they were the heavyweights, and there hadn't been since Hiei had greeted Yusuke via sword at the dock. All of which, of course, was what Hiei needed in order to join the team-to be considered the strongest fighter, and to be trusted to fight for them. All of Genkai's half-formed plans of what to do if Hiei proved a flight risk seemed foolish to her now, knowing that Yusuke had earned Hiei's loyalty.
And Kurama? As willing to follow as the rest of them, despite trumping Yusuke in brains almost as much as by age. He, like Hiei, seemed to need Yusuke's trustfulness (unsurprising, considering the nature of Yusuke's first case). But unlike Hiei, it was not Kurama's status as a fighter but his sense of identity that was on shaky ground, and which Yusuke was reinforcing. Kurama was odd: half-human and half-demon, recently reformed but with a past that would have given any sane person nightmares (and then doubts). He was older and smarter, armed with completely different mannerisms than his companions. He didn't fit in, but Yusuke didn't seem to realize it. Nor did Yusuke ever question the truthfulness of any statement Kurama made regarding himself, and what habits he had acquired or given up.
Actually, Yusuke didn't seem to question the truthfulness of anything Kurama said, period. He went to Kurama for explanations constantly, with no fear of revealing his own ignorance, and took his advice with astonishing regularity. Yusuke included Kurama the same way he halfway excluded Hiei, giving them what they needed so naturally that it took days of study before Genkai could pinpoint what their needs were at all. She had a hunch, however, that at least one of the ways Yusuke tweaked his behavior around Kurama was not instinctive: much to her amusement, Yusuke switched off his casual rudeness when he was speaking directly to Kurama. Even Keiko didn't get that treatment, much less his much-abused teacher. It might have been Kurama's manners rubbing off on him, but Genkai thought ditching the posturing was another way for Yusuke to show acceptance for Kurama as he was.
None of the rest of the team paid attention to any of this, of course. It was already known to them. But to the Masked Fighter, it was a shock to discover Yusuke was a bonafide leader. Not the type who went out and sought followers and ran in elections; the type who just did what he did, and woke up one morning to discover he was surrounded by a group of people who would follow him anywhere. He already had his core circle, and it included Genkai. And as far as she could tell, he hadn't given a thought to winning their devotion.
As she sat alone in her bedroom one night, casually eavesdropping on the conversation in the main room, the topic shifted to the beautiful young girl who had been seen for the first time that day fighting the Ichigaki team. Everyone (with the exceptions of Kurama, who was in his bedroom trying to sleep off the third round, and Hiei, who was never around in the evening) was quick to start offering opinions on who the girl could be and how she got on the team.
But it had only gone on a short while before Yusuke cut them off. "Look, I thought she was Genkai, but who cares? Genkai picked her, she's pulling her weight, she saved our asses from the Ichigaki team today. That's enough. Genkai would've been prettier than this chick, but let's face it, this team is not made up of lookers." He raised his voice to a shout. "Goodnight you stupid hag. Thanks for saving us."
"Yusuke!" Botan sounded utterly scandalized. "You'll wake up Kurama! And don't call that girl a hag!"
The group broke into two hushed arguments, about whether they should move so they wouldn't disturb Kurama and about whether Yusuke was the worst or the absolute worst. The topic of the beautiful young girl was abandoned. Genkai tried to force some cynical thoughts along the lines of what a suck-up, he must know everything, or the kid's really laying it on thick if he expects me to believe he thinks the old me is prettier.
But she couldn't get herself to believe them. All she could do was smile and whisper under her breath, "Goodnight, dimwit."