CHAPTER NINE

Muttering something foul under his breath, Yusuke leaned against the wall, his finger in his ear. This day was certainly not turning out to be what he planned. Today was the day! The day of the bet! Where either Kuwabara would never see Yukina again or Hiei confessed that he was Yukina's brother. So why did all of tonight's drama occur behind doors or outside? The only action he participated in was tearing out Kurama's hair. Stupid Kurama, Yusuke thought, blinking his still sore and watery eyes. What I wouldn't give to have another go atcha—

"Yusuke?" Keiko called as she walked towards Yusuke, a steaming cup of tea in her hands. "Have you seen Botan-chan? She went missing a few minutes ago and I haven't seen her since."

Sighing, Yusuke closed his eyes. "Yeah, she's outside with Kurama. They're probably taking each other's clothes off by now."

Exhaling in disgust, Keiko rolled her eyes and shook her head.

Yusuke paused, then cracked open an eye. "What? No slap? No calling me an idiot or some such?"

Gazing off into the distance, Keiko pursed her lips. "You shouldn't spread such rumors."

"So there's still a correction in ya. But it lacked your usual fire. You should try again."

"Don't push me, Yusuke. I'm not in the mood." Yusuke opened his mouth to say the obvious reply but then Keiko realized her mistake. Ah, now that was a glare. "Don't even think about it."

"Too late." Pushing off the wall, Yusuke stood next to Keiko, moving quite close. Had he done such so the two wouldn't be overheard or if he liked the physical intimacy, Keiko couldn't tell. Probably both. Keiko gripped her tea cup harder. Perhaps she could use it to test if Yusuke was a bonehead as Genkai claimed all the time. She truly didn't have the patience to put up with any games tonight. As if Yusuke sensed this, he for once turned serious. "What's wrong, babe?"

Unable to meet Yusuke's eyes, Keiko stared at the cream and sugar Earl Gray tea. "It's… It's my family's restaurant. We just aren't pulling in enough customers. My parents are rattling their brains to come up with some new ideas, but… nothing has worked so far." Her voice trailing off into a whisper, Keiko continued, "If things continue down this road, I'd have to consider attending another—cheaper—university."

"Oooh? That so?" Yusuke crowed loudly, gaining the attention of everyone in the room. Genkai sat by the pastry table, sipping tea, previously pointedly ignoring the desserts and the presents. Kuwabara sat besides her, stuffing his face. Hiei leaned against the wall on the other side of the room. Yukina had disappeared earlier, saying something about changing. "Well, now that is a pickle, no two bones about it."

Cheeks burning, Keiko hissed, "What are you doing? Knock it off."

Yusuke replied with a one-eyed grin. "Yer sure that you don't want to yell at me? Better get it all out now or you'll might regret it later."

"What are you talking about?" Keiko demanded, her voice and blood pressure rising. "Yusuke, so help me—"

"In fact, I think that's what I'm gonna do." Yusuke dug out a sheet of paper out of the back pocket of his jeans, unfolded it in Keiko's face, and flicked at it with a finger. "Read it and weep."

After eyeing Yusuke suspiciously, Keiko snagged the paper out of his hand. She recognized Yusuke's chicken scratch handwriting immediately. She scanned the page. "This is… This is a résumé." Her eyes wide, Keiko looked up at Yusuke. "You…"

"Running a ramen shop by myself is boring. There's no one to share all my amazing ideas and recipes with. So when I heard from you about the Yukimura restaurant experience some trouble, I thought," Yusuke rolled up his sleeve, showing off his budging bicep. "Who better to help than me? You'll be getting all of my customers, for one. And this way we'll get to see each other more often. And I promise I won't suggest miniskirts. So." Yusuke's smug grin returned. "Gonna apologize now?"

Keiko palmed both of Yusuke's cheeks, pulled him close, and gave him a doozy. Pulling away, Keiko smirked. "I apologize for nothing."

"What?" Yusuke cried angrily. "I know exactly what you were thinking earlier; it was written all over your face. You were gonna smash that tea cup down of yours on my head."

"Not anymore, she's not," Genkai quipped, staring at the spilled tea and the broken cup shards on the floor.

"Good thing Yukina-san got you a brand new set!" Kuwabara happily chimed in. Genkai glared at him. "Oh, did I tell you happy birthday today already?"

Glaring at everyone, Genkai took a long sip from her tea. "Teenagers these days."

Yusuke winked and made a finger gun at Genkai. "That's the right attitude, you old lady, you!"

"But I do thank you."

Surprised, Yusuke glanced towards Keiko. Her face was flushed and her eyes were tearing up, but a winsome smile graced her lips. "This means so much to… Thank you."

Yusuke gripped Keiko in a tight hug. "Anything for you, babe."

When his eyes began to tear up too, Yusuke shook his head. Stupid, Kurama, he thought, blinking his still sore and watery eyes. What I wouldn't give to have another go atcha.

When I need him, Yusuke only thinks of himself and what he wants…

Keiko smiled into Yusuke's shoulder. Yusuke usually thinks only of himself and what he wants, but when I need him, he's there.

The two broke apart at the sound of a door sliding open. Yukina emerged, dressed in her stunning new kimono. She timidly thanked everyone politely when they complimented her, but Keiko could sense she was bursting with happiness. Eventually, Botan and Kurama entered as well, wearing smiles a mile long.

Yusuke leaned over Keiko and whispered, "See, I told ya."

"I thought I told you to stop," Keiko whispered back, but she couldn't hold back her smile, either. She was happy for the two of them.

"It's a good thing she's smiling, too," added Yusuke, eyeing Kurama. "If he made her upset, he would have to talk to me."

Keiko rolled her eyes. If only Yusuke was that protective of her. Instead she got accused of wanting to bash his head in. Which may or may not have been true.

"Everyone," Kuwabara shouted over the chatter in the air. When the room quieted, Kuwabara smiled at Yukina. "Now that we're all here, I would like give Yukina-san her present. From me."

Although her cheeks were twin flames, Yukina stepped forward. Kuwabara pulled a thin present not much bigger than his hand out from the Genkai's presents and turned to face his favorite ice demon. Kuwabara held out the wrapped gift. "Yukina-san," Kuwabara started, pitching his voice deep, "I…" Then he looked up.

A dozen eyes were staring at him. Curious eyes. Expectant eyes. Impatient eyes. Laughing, smiling, teasing eyes. Kuwabara had always imagined this moment: he give Yukina her gift after a long, elegant declaration of love delivered by just as elegant and cool man, topped with the gift that left her speechless. But a half dozen bodies were crowding around Yukina, hoping to get a better view. And imaging his friends in his underwear would only make Kuwabara more flustered. "A-Ah, here," he floundered. "This is from me."

"You said that already," someone said.

"Quiet!" Another person hissed too loudly.

Kuwabara sighed. I should have just given her the present earlier when I had the chance. Accepting the gift, Yukina smiled at Kuwabara, trying to smooth over the awkwardness. She began to tear into the ice blue wrapping paper.

"I can't see."

"SHUT UP!" Everyone else shouted.

His friends—Kuwabara loved them dearly—but they were killing the mood.

Embarrassed, Yukina stopped, but she soon continued. A glossy thin paper shinned up at her. Yukina sucked in a breath, but then she smiled.

"What is it? What is it?"

Before someone could lose their temper again, Yukina lifted her gift up in the air. "It's a pamphlet. A pamphlet to an event in which visitors can view a variety of kinds of birds from around the world." Yukina caught Kuwabara's gaze, and her eyes melted. "A good place to make memories," she murmured. "I should have known that after our conversation last night you and I both had the same idea." Her eyes swimming, Yukina breathed, "I could never thank you enough, but thank you, Kazuma-san, for this wonderful gift and for everything you have done for me."

His voice thick with emotion, Kuwabara breathed, "Yukina-san…" His heart hammering in his chest, he stepped forward. He was drawn to this young woman. Her breezy laugh, her mint green hair, her virus infected smile. The red string of fate had tied around their hearts and was reeling him in, closer and closer and—

"Birds, eh?"

"Can I see it?" A hand ripped the pamphlet from her hand.

"Move, let me see. Oh, sorry, Yukina-chan, I didn't mean to bump into you."

"They'll just shit on their heads."

"Open it up, open it!"

"Stop shoving, I can't read it."

"And birds reek. I would never want to go there."

And so the vultures descended upon Yukina, eager to dig in and feast. Poor Yukina was wedged in between Kurama on her left and Keiko and Genkai on her right and the folded out pamphlet hemmed her from the front. Standing on her tip toes, Botan tried to see over Kurama's and Keiko's heads, while Yusuke, on the far right, fought for control of the paper. Hiei, too short, was shoved aside and ignored, much to his annoyance.

"Where is it? Do you see an address anywhere? A phone number?"

"How much does it cost to go?"

"Open it, I said!"

"When does it open?"

"It is open!"

"Man, that's a lot of dough. Guess Ba-san ain't getting her Street Fighter for some time."

"No, it isn't. Look it can fold out more."

"Wow, in the spring? That's pretty shitty to make her wait that long."

"I told you to move it over, I can't see."

"Ah, there's the address. What about a phone number?"

"No, because then I won't be able to look."

"Oh, so it can." The pamphlet unfolded, tripling in size.

"Oooh, it's a map of the grounds."

"Um, guys? That's Yukina-san's." Kuwabara said but no one paid him any mind.

"I said move it!"

"No!"

Rrriiiiiippp.

Everyone froze.

"It was him!" Yusuke and Kurama cried, pointing at each other.

"Oh, don't even try to pawn it off onto me, Barbie," Yusuke jabbed at Kurama. "You were the gripping paper when it tore.

"I had a good view of the pamphlet, so why would I attempt to yank towards me?" Kurama countered, crossing his arms. "But even if you had done so, you couldn't have read it. After all, you're terminally blind, as you were so whining and moaning earlier."

Yukina, caught in the middle, clamped her hands over her ears.

"You wanted to see the address!"

"No, that was Keiko."

"That wasn't me. Don't blame me!"

"Who wanted to see the phone number? I thought that was you, Kurama-kun."

"Take back what you said!"

"Stop shoving!"

"Stop shouting!"

Kuwabara shook his head and sighed. Really, guys? Really? The one time I thought I could count on you all to support me, you just start bickering like children. When he looked up, he saw Hiei standing slightly apart from everyone, silently fuming. His eyes flicked to Yukina, and they softened. His glare at the mob intensified.

Seeing the exchange, Kuwabara heard Hiei's voice in his mind.

Sucking in a deep breath though his nose, Kuwabara pounded his puffed out chest with a fist. "But of course! My happiness is Yukina-san's happiness!"

"You fool!"

Hiei stood up and threw his tea cup to the ground, causing it to smash in a thousand pieces. Everyone jumped. His fist trembling with restrained rage, Hiei bit out, "You don't know the first thing about making Yukina happy!"

Kuwabara thought, He lost his temper for her sake. He was concerned that I couldn't take care of her, make her happy. Well, when I prefaced my statement with that I guess I would be concerned, too, if I were him. Perhaps I should say something to him.

"Hiei."

Hiei turned to the voice, his expression neutral, but it soured upon seeing Kuwabara gesturing to him. "What do you want?" When he continued to wave him over, Hiei scowled but complied. Throwing a glance over his shoulder, Hiei commented, "Those fools have ruined everything."

"Yeah, but this isn't about them. This is about us. And Yukina-san."

Hearing Kuwabara's serious tone, Hiei asked, "What do you want?" again, this time with less scorn.

Before we made this bet, my head was filled with dreams about all the places I could go with Yukina-san, all the fun activities we could do, all the sweet things I would tell her. So I instantly assumed that Yukina-san wanted to go out with me.

"I want to give you something." Hiei raised an eyebrow.

But then I realized just how little Yukina-san understood about dating. In my haste to develop our relationship, I almost overlooked just how much pain and self-hate Yukina-san was carrying.

Kuwabara pulled out a small, battered book from his back pocket of his pants and handed it to Hiei. His eyes widened.

So I'm going to put aside my selfish expectations of what I think our relationship should be. I'll tell Yukina-san that she's a wonderful person over and over again until she sees herself as beautiful as she is to me.

"This is…" Hiei began.

And maybe one day, Hiei will accept that.

Hiei gritted his teeth, waves of heat rolling off of him. "…that notebook chuck full of your perverted fantasies about Yukina."

"I do not have fantasies about Yukina-san, I have plans—I-I mean. Hey!"

Hiei snatched the notebook from Kuwabara's hands and flipped through it. "Where's Yukina's names written in sharpie?"

Kuwabara blushed, "In the front—H-Hey, wait! Stop looking through it!"

"There's also all these girls' names crossed out here. Who is…" Hiei narrowed his eyes, sounding out the English. "Sheeliaaa?" He snickered. "So desperate you tried foreign women, idiot?"

"Shelia's a nobody; now listen to me!"

Hiei smirked as if to say, "Why the hell should I ever do that?"

Closing his eyes, Kuwabara sucked in a breath, held it for three seconds, then let it out through his nose. Calmer, Kuwabara explained, "Yes, that's the notebook full of ideas I had about Yukina-san and I. I'm giving it to you."

Hiei's face twisted in disgust. "I'm not going to read this and approve of it, you scumb—"

"No, no, no! Not that!"

Puzzled, Hiei frowned. "Then you know what I'm going to do with it." It was a statement, not a question. Kuwabara nodded. Hiei drew to a pause. Huh, he thought, throwing the book in the air and catching it. Interesting.

I have kept my distance from Yukina, certain that if she learned what kind of person I am, she would hate me. But the idiot never stopped chasing her down. Unafraid, he relentlessly pursued her, becoming the kind of person that she wanted him to be. Someone who supported her, who reassured her of her strength. I was convinced she didn't need me anymore.

But when Yukina made the ice dragon for me, I realized that she understands. She understands the kind of person I am. And she accepts me anyway. Remembering their embrace, Hiei closed his eyes.

Maybe one day, I can accept myself as her brother.

A crazy thought, one that Hiei dismissed as soon as it had entered his mind. A stupid thought. A dangerous thought. But still, a nice thought.

Opening his eyes, Hiei studied Kuwabara. Kurama's words echoed through his head. "Is that what Yukina-san would want?"

I don't know if Yukina would accept me, but I do know how she feels about this stupid oaf.

Kuwabara pronounced, "I want you to burn it, Hiei."

"Too lazy to do it yourself?"

Kuwabara shook his head. "No, it's just…" He stared deep into Hiei's eyes. "It would make me happy if you were the one to do it."

Hiei smirked, recalling how Kuwabara once decried of the demon's ability to make others happy. Kuwabara might have been mistaken, but he thought he saw Hiei's smirk soften into something else as he burned the notebook with a conjured fire.

As the book burned, Kuwabara's and Hiei's eyes met and they reached the same conclusion. The bet didn't matter. It didn't matter who could make Yukina happier; they both did. The two understood and related to Yukina differently, but without the one or the other, Yukina would despair. In the pursuit of her happiness there were no losers—only winners.

Throwing aside the handful of ash, Hiei explained, "I am loathe to do anything you suggest. I do what I want, understand?"

Kuwabara frowned, going over the statement in his head. But then doesn't that mean he wanted to do what I suggested?

An eruption of giggles caught their attention. Yukina, having detangled from the mob, watched them both, chuckling. "It's good to see you two get along."

Stunned, Kuwabara and Hiei glanced at each other. Then they turned around and scoffed, "As if that'll ever happen!"

Yukina only giggled more.

"Hey look, a stereo! I forgot it was here!" Rock music blasted through the temple area. "Oh, yay!" Botan clapped her hands. "Let's dance!" A sword sailed through the air, splitting the stereo into two.

Botan screamed, falling on her bottom. Hiei crossed his arms, a smug grin on his face. Kuwabara clawed his hair and screeched, "That was my stereo!"

"Guess you'd better get a new one."

"You listen here, shrimp," Kuwabara leaned down, pointing his finger into Hiei's face. "No one even agreed to her idea. There was no reason to destroy it!"

"There was every reason."

"Such as?"

"I wanted to."

"Why you little runt!"

As Botan picked herself up, she suggested, "W-Well, if we can't dance, we can sing, right? Let's sing Christmas carols!"

"Oh, that's a great idea, Botan-chan," Keiko smiled. "How about—"

Yusuke leaned closer to Keiko and snorted, "I could sing, too, but my farts would clear the room."

"Yusuke!" Keiko snapped.

"That's right!" Yukina gasped. "We haven't sung Happy Birthday to Genkai-san yet!"

Genkai scowled at Yukina, muttering, "I'm trying to be forgotten here."

"I'm already trying to save up to get tickets to go see the birds with Yukina-san and Ba-san's present. I don't have any money to spare to buy a new stereo!"

"Why do you have to be so disgusting, Yusuke?"

"Come on, everybody, let's sing. Happy birthday to you…"

"That's not my problem, moron."

"Why must the gods curse me with guests like these fools?"

"It was a joke, all right? Geez, Keiko. You're not my mom so chill, okay?"

"Excuse me?"

"I know what we could do!"

Everyone turned to see kitsune grin. "How about Secret Santa? That way, everyone gets to exchange presents. Isn't that a wonderful idea?"

"NO!"

Kurama, for the life of him, couldn't figure out why they hated the idea.


I'm a sucker for happy endings, so I couldn't let this end in disaster. Also, I can't imagine a situation in which Kuwabara or Hiei would actually follow through what they promised if they had lost. Kuwabara would never really leave Yukina alone; at best he would watch her from afar. And Hiei would be loathe to tell Kuwabara that he is Yukina's brother because he would never trust Kuwabara to not slip up to Yukina. And, as I said, I can't believe a scenario in which Hiei would willingly tell Yukina that they are related. What's far more likely is for Yukina to have realized on her own that Hiei is her brother and keep quiet about her knowledge.

I'm currently writing a Hunter x Hunter fic so if you have read or watched it, please stay tuned for that! (If you want to know more about it, feel free to PM).

Thank you for reading until the end. Before you go, let me know what your favorite parts where and what could be improved upon. I hope you enjoyed the ride.

Until we meet again,

Animercom