SWEAT DRIPS, LOVE STICKS
Author's Note: Finally… I've been chipping away at this prompt-set for what feels like forever (and I hope DarkMignonette doesn't mind I borrowed her idea ^/^ ). It's hard for me to write without being *~inspired~* so I'm trying to push myself a bit more, with mixed results. Set pre-, within, and post- canon.
"Shh..." The nineteen-year-old girl winked, offering a warm smile as the happy toddler bounced on the balls of her feet. She giggled when Atsuko slipped extra candies into her skirt pocket. "Don't tell Yusuke I gave you more, okay?"
"Sweetie, what happened?" Mr. Yukimura asked, eyeing his sniffling daughter's red, bandaged knees and her scuffed mary janes. Before the answer got out, Yusuke interjected excitedly, "We were running, and Toshiro stuck his leg out and tripped Keiko, and she fell down, so I hit him in the mouth with her lunchbox!"
Mr. Yukimura suppressed the urge to grin as Yusuke proudly babbled about Toshiro's broken tooth, and Keiko (tears forgotten) scolded him for getting in trouble for it. Skeptical as he was of his daughter's new wild and troublesome playmate, coming to her defense? He couldn't help but approve now.
Keiko pressed her hands to her mouth as the boy disappeared beyond the ledge and into shallow water. "See, this is why you're the biggest dummy I know!" If Yusuke weren't such a brat, he wouldn't end up soaked through his overalls. He sneezed, and Keiko hoped the cold she knew he would catch was worth trying to peek under her skirt.
"Dammit, Keiko," Yusuke hissed, flinching like an irate cat from the cloth in her hand, "that stings." The teenager scowled, sure she heard him swear at her under his breath, and pushed the gauze against his eye harder than she might have otherwise.
Fat snowflakes fell from heather sky - the way it usually did around her birthday - and Keiko curled further into bed. Vaguely, she hoped Atsuko had enough foresight to buy groceries for the next few days as it began to pile on the sidewalk.
Yusuke sank in his seat, ready to glare daggers at anyone who stared at the schoolgirl and the delinquent together in such a cutsey cafe. "You don't want anything?" He frowned at the menu of pastel-colored cakes and sugary drinks. "Nah, just order what you want…" he answered. Normally, the boy wouldn't be caught dead looking as if he were on a date with Keiko anywhere so pink, but Yusuke could make the exception for today...
She spied all the tell-tale signs he was rearing for a fight - squared shoulders and narrowed eyes - so Keiko grabbed Yusuke by the elbow and pushed past the Kazanaga students glowering at him. "Urameshi," the nearest one yelled, "I'm only letting you go today 'cause you're with your bitch!" Yusuke tore from her grip. His fist slammed into the guy's jaw before Keiko could blink.
Yusuke offered to hold her umbrella (only so he wouldn't have to duck), acutely aware of how closely they had to walk together to stay dry. Maybe he could duck into her parent's restaurant and snag a free meal while he waited the rain out.
The street-punk sulked at the ruined cigarette floating in a puddle at his feet. Wind picked up, blowing cold rain sideways against their legs, but Yusuke continued to hold the umbrella dutifully over the two of them - even if Keiko did deserve to get soaked after slapping his last smoke out of his hand. "You're a real pain in the ass sometimes, you know that right?" She wrinkled her nose and snapped, "Yeah, well you know you're a pain in my ass all the time!"
Those horrible, awful words - "Idiot! Pervert! Why don't you just die already!" - echoed painfully in her mind as Keiko buried her tears in the softest teddy bear she owned. How could she ever apologize for them now that Yusuke was dead?
He glided in, and the spirit wished Botan had offered a better solution than "just stand at their bedside" and talk to Keiko in her sleep. It had been a while since he had been inside her room. It was as neatly organized as ever, but now it was girly too, from the color on the walls to the cloud print on her comforter. Yusuke made eye contact with a pink bunny sitting on her desk and frowned, feeling judged for intruding.
Sayaka floated above the schoolgirl fascinated, though the appeal was lost on Yusuke. It was bad enough while he was alive; he didn't need a bird's-eye-view of teachers and friends and horny guys fawning after Keiko while she walked around like she shone brighter than anyone else.
The last time she saw him so serene was - well, she couldn't remember when... Probably before he started wearing gel in his hair. It made her best friend look… different. Normally, Yusuke wore a crease between his harsh eyebrows, and his lips curled down in a permanent sneer. Now, his dark hair fell easily over his forehead, the crease gone; instead of a scowl, the lines of his mouth were soft. Such a beautiful face for such a rough boy, Keiko thought as she brushed the last fleck of dust from his lip.
She'd never kissed a boy before - Yusuke being the only one she really knew; never given it much thought, but oh, was she tempted after the tender way he came during dreams to dry her tears and ask her to wait. "Don't tell me you like somebody else…!?" Warmth tingled awkwardly in her belly, and Keiko's heart beat in her chest and in her throat and between her ears as she leaned in closer…
Though angry, red flames passed harmlessly through Yusuke's ghost, the blaze threatened to catch the girl's skirt and ankles, crackling and snapping as if the fire were reveling in its cruelty. "Don't be stupid! Go back!" Sayaka drifted forward, her large childish eyes laced with concern. "But your body-!" The ends of Keiko's pigtails glowed orange before falling away as ash. "There's no point in coming back to life if Keiko is dead!"
In her dream, their shared moment felt pleasant and warm, but despite the flickering golden glow, Yusuke's lips were cold - so freezing they snapped her back to painful reality. Keiko pushed the dreadful thought of them remaining that way forever and focused her entire being on the act. Please, please, please…
The girl stilled, breath held and heart paralyzed in her chest; only tears continued to stubbornly roll down her cheeks. Yusuke blinked. Once, then twice, and - oh please - sat up and turned his gaze on her. He spoke to her (something silly and too-casual, of course), and, even though the clock read past midnight, all the sun and warmth flooded back into Keiko's life all at once.
"Huh? What's this?" The detective peered up, flicking his stare from the curious look on Keiko's face to the shiny object held out in between them. His eyes lit with recognition, and Yusuke snatched away Botan's spyglass-thingy (angled straight at her body), burying it in his pocket. "You can't just nose through a guy's stuff you know…" he told her, trying to quiet down the stupid part of his brain that wished he'd actually caught a glimpse underneath her uniform.
"I haven't seen Keiko this happy in months. Look at how she's prancing around!" Yusuke took another sip of milkshake with practiced disinterest - since when did they start hanging out? "Oh yeah?" He lurched, and Yusuke found his head wedged between Kuwabara's armpit and Kuwabara's fist. "Don't act like you're not excited too! I'll head on home now, so you can make a smooth go at her!" Goddammit, the idiot's so loud. "Hey, you're squishing my milkshake!"
A pang of guilt accompanied the jealous twinge in her chest as she watched the two boys walk away, leaving her alone to buy movie tickets. Keiko felt selfish, worrying she'd been replaced, just because Yusuke finally found someone so much like himself in his arch rival turned best friend. And to make it worse, Kuwabara had to be the sweetest punk she'd ever met.
Goddammit! Even though he meant it when he said Keiko was plenty tough, he couldn't half ass it against the leader of the Saint Beasts the way he had with Rando. A guy could only be so lucky, and with more than his own life on the line, he needed to be more careful this time. Yusuke's hands slid into his shoes as he picked himself up.
There was no way to reach them, no energy left to save them, and no more time. Botan lay motionless in Keiko's lap, the brunette bravely shielding her from danger with her body. Suzaku exhausted his spirit power, but even though the detective was spent, a different sort of energy surged, arising from somewhere near his heart and rushed into his fists…
"Do you think I'm pretty?" Yusuke faltered and nearly dropped the coffee pot. He chanced a glance at his girlfriend(?), perched on the corner of his mother's couch, head curiously tilted to one side. "Everyone thinks you're pretty…" he deflected. Keiko tsk'd. "You know I don't care about everyone." Nervous fingers ran through slick hair, redness flooding his ears. Yusuke shoved the mug into her palms, ignoring the knowing curl of her lips. "I mean- yeah... Obviously."
Yusuke took another couple centimeters off the strawberry-flavored stick and hesitantly drew his gaze up to meet hers. Behind flustered skin, the schoolgirl wore the same daring expression as when she first placed the biscuit between her lips, and Yusuke readied himself for the last bite.
When Keiko found out - actually found out - it relieved him (surprisingly, since she basically threw herself into a crowd of blood-thirsty demons in her chase after him). It was freeing for Yusuke's longest, closest companion to discover his secret and accept it without hesitation - unnatural dangerous powers and everything. But that was Keiko. After all, she accepted him for the intimidating, angry, idiot punk he was too.
As much as Botan's suggestion of "birds and bees" affronted her, time alone with Yusuke actually felt nice for a change. Even if her boyfriend was sleeping, Keiko enjoyed his closeness without having to worry about grabby hands or unsolicited comments about her underwear.
All light left Keiko's eyes, and she was overcome with the feeling of falling. As much as she hated Yusuke's fighting - between scraped knuckles and dried blood and bottles of peroxide - she'd only ever seen him win. The brilliant blue light pouring from his soul should have been powerful and reassuring, but she was only reminded of the last brilliant star before it dies, and this time, Keiko was there to witness it.
It was over. He defeated Toguro. Looking out from the ferry, it was impossible to tell where the sky ended and the ocean began - everything was so blue. The Urameshi Team captain folded his arms behind his head; instead of fighting, he'd play pachinko, Keiko would return to her constant fussing, and Kuwabara would have the biggest head after Toguro's stunt, but to Yusuke, nothing sounded better.
Puu chirped happily at her from among the girl's stuffed animals. Keiko mused, how funny, gently rubbing the downy blue fuzz on his stomach, that an incarnation of Yusuke's soul could blend in so well with them.
Keiko ignored Yusuke's rolling eyes and half-hearted attempt to back away as her nails grazed across his scalp, pulling the shorter pieces in the front out of his slick pompadour so they hung over his forehead. "Don't be such a baby, it looks better this way…"
She was too normal to be of any real use to him. Yusuke didn't need a regular schoolgirl putting herself in harm's way just to say "stealing bicycles is wrong". She'd tried very hard to fit where she really didn't belong, and it only made her an extra layer of worry. Worst of all, Yusuke had been Koenma's employee for months, and he got through it all without her. The thought frightened Keiko; even if he didn't need her, she still very much needed him.
Puu fell limp, cradled in Keiko's arms. His long ears dangled off her elbow, and she worried at her little friend. A cold, sinking feeling of deja vu settled into her bones, remembering the first time she saw Yusuke's body in a coffin.
Given the confused expressions on the rest of his team as he walked out of Demon's Door, Yusuke hadn't expected Keiko to throw her arms around his neck in front of them like that. But then again, she'd known him longer than anyone else; it wasn't exactly shocking she could recognize him through the weird tattoos and two meters of hair.
Despite assurance he was fine, Keiko knew whatever change occurred in that cave ran vein deep. In ten years, he'd never been so distant. Every attempt she made to bring it up resulted in detached one-word answers and refusal to meet her eyes, and eventually, Keiko stopped trying altogether - don't bring it up, don't argue back, afford Yusuke all the space he wants.
It had been a very surreal sunset, when Yusuke's ghost came to her in Kuwabara's body and asked her to wait. The girl back then promised "forever", when she felt certain they would bicker over which brand of curry tasted better or the length of her skirt for the rest of their lives. But things change - a year later, by the same sunset, when he'd asked her again, Keiko's resolution failed.
Ms. Yukimura's arm squeezed tighter around her daughter, smoothing her hair with the other hand and shh-ing her gently, as quiet sniffling and tears broke into hiccups and sobbing over her first love.
Idiot. Keiko would not spend three years as a 'girl who waited around for a boy' - so she studied, pitched softball, helped in her parents' restaurant, even kissed other boys... during the day. Nights were different. At night, she was alone with her thoughts, staring into the dark, quiet, empty street where he waved her goodbye, trying desperately to push him out of her mind.
The young woman braced herself against the excited flap of great blue wings blowing her pleated skirt against her legs, and Puu nuzzled his head into his usual place at Keiko's breast. Cuddles from his favorite person were too few and far between now, especially since her parents would definitely notice if he tried to hide in her room.
The balmy surf lapped at her toes, vying for attention, but it was the tall, shadowy form that drew it. Keiko's first instinct was to dismiss it as a big, handsome sunspot after staring into the horizon for too long, but then, the body she collided with felt painfully, wonderfully solid.
The first time (and the second, and the third), Yusuke couldn't help whispering between tangling fingers and contented sighs: "are you alright?" "am I doing okay?" "I didn't hurt you did I?" He'd been a screw up most of his life; he didn't want to mess this up too.
Yusuke's ears blazed crimson, reduced to sputtering stupidly as his mother shoved a box of condoms into his chest. "You better not get my girl in trouble, understand?"
Tendrils of steam ghosted above the bowl as Yusuke ladled the broth in. Knowing he wouldn't accept it on the house, the ex-detective took care to layer extra slices of pork over the top instead - he'd need all the good karma he could get.
"So, about that last proposal…" he started stiffly, straightening his back a bit, "…you'd be okay with that right?" Mr. Yukimura regarded him seriously, and Yusuke tried to focus on not fidgeting under his stare. It only lasted a moment though. The older man's face broke into the widest grin, and he let out a wholehearted belly-laugh. "Of course!"
The brunette traced her fingers across Yusuke's torso, exploring tanned, tawny skin and old scars, stopping at his collarbone over what looked suspiciously like bite marks. "Geez, Keiko, handsy much?" She squealed as he slid into her back pockets. "As if you're one to talk about being handsy," she huffed.
"Whaa-at?" Yusuke peered incredulously over the young woman's shoulder. "How come your side is so short?" Their wedding would be small, but missing from Keiko's list were her two middle school friends (Natsu-something and the other tall one), her sour uppity aunt from Yokohama - most of her extended family, actually. Keiko answered, without lifting her gaze from the sheet, "Anyone who's ever accused you of being good-for-nothing or ruining my reputation isn't invited."
Keiko glanced up at the sound of the front door. Full, paper grocery bags in tow, Yusuke shuffled into the kitchen, tugged her braid as his means of saying 'hello', and dropped them off on the counter. "Crazy hag ran into my cart at the store," he groaned, pulling the vegetables out to wash. She smiled, turning back to the exams in front of her, thinking maybe Chuu had a point about Yusuke being "tied by the apron strings"...
Even in the dark, his eyes glinted wild and hungry and red, framing blown pupils; hers followed the spindly demon markings, down his throat and blazoned across his chest, singing of his impossible power. A more reasonable woman would want to run, with wrists pinned down and fangs at her neck, but she couldn't imagine a more dangerous and divine surrender.
"Hey-! You're gonna burn it!" Keiko tsk'd and jerked the skillet. "I don't need you telling me how." Her husband smirked, reassured because day in and day out, even after so many years, some things never changed. Yusuke tapped her backside playfully, remnants of annoyance already fading from Keiko's face. "Come on. We both know I'm the better cook."
Outwardly, all anyone saw was bickering, glaring, hands-on-hips and sneers and rolling eyes. But privately, Keiko nestled herself into Yusuke's always-warm chest, strong arm draped languidly over her shoulders. Privately, there was still bickering, but also kisses and understanding and freedom to be exactly as they were and nothing more. They were safe with each other and it had always been that way.
It would always be that way.
Author's Note: I don't ever get tired of this ship. Nope, not me.
FYI, very proud of myself for keeping the suggestiveness to a minimum given all the potentially steamy words. ^/^ Many of the prompts anyway are tangential at best. Also, I'm guilty of substituting one, because I just didn't know what to do with 'potato'.
Reviews are very much appreciated! 3