Winter was clearly her chosen season, and Christmas her favorite time of the year. Snowflakes spiraled around the pretty girl as her dainty footsteps took her further and further down the snow dusted streets. Several boys looked up from shoveling the streets and a passerby or two stretched out their necks from carrying packages just long enough to see her. Her ice green hair was nearly all tucked away under her elegant white hat, but a few wispy bangs stuck out in the front, adorning the sweet gentle face with ruby tinted eyes.

The shopkeeper handed the girl a small package tied in gold ribbon and studded with tiny silver stars. "Bless you, dear child. Have a Merry Christmas. I hope you get your wish!" the woman said with a twinkle in her eye.

Outside the snowflakes were beginning to dance with an even greater fervor as the roaring winds started to play, tugging at everyone's hats and coats. Yukina blushed and tucked the packaged away in her deepest pocket. Inside, she dared to let out a quiet, but very deep sigh. What kind of girl was she, not to ask for trivial things? Others would beg their families for various toys, electronic machines that bleeped noisily, or bottled scents of flowers from the earlier seasons. And clearly, a bauble of shiny stones was the last thing she needed. It was not something that Yukina had been praying for lately, but someone. A real flesh and blood person with a spirit akin to her was Yukina's Christmas wish.

"Brother", she said softly.

How long had she been searching for him? It was only a few months, but it seemed to have been forever. Sometimes she would gaze up at the starlight sky and wonder whom this mysterious person was, the one that she had never seen but felt obligated to unite herself with. What did her brother look like? Where had he been living all this time? Would he be pleased to find her as a sister? Could she trust him with any dark frightening secrets? But no-too much time had passed and still no search of the kin.

She was beginning to feel despair take home in her still young spirit, its unhappiness eating away at Yukina as a worm would eat away at an entire tree. Little by little, the hope of ever finding her brother was ebbing away like drops of water slowly sliding off an icicle.

A-A-A

Yukina told herself not to be so self centered. After all, Christmas was a time to count blessings and enjoy all that you have. She found herself decorating the living room with Botan and Keiko, both of which were hanging up twinkling lights in the window. The snow girl was doing her own share of the festival work by sliding a finger across the windowsills and producing never melting icicles-a little trick she had picked up recently.

"You look sad," Keiko mentioned as the girl wiped her hands and stepped down the ladder. Yukina just looked down and rubbed her thumb on a long thing blue icicle.

"Its, nothing," she tried to say, but her voice was wavering. Any minute now, the dam of security would give way and she would lose out.

"Oh, come on Yukina-no one wants to be miserable on Christmas. Even Yusuke and Kuabara are helping out," Botan said cheerily.

No sooner had the words come out of her mouth, when a crashing noise could be heard from the ceiling. The girls looked up and heard thumping noises, following by muffled grunts. Something like "stupid lights" followed by "baka-head" were heard from outside.

"Honestly, those boys will never work things out," Keiko sighed impatiently. She took up a half finished sweater and began to knit the rest of it.

"I-I'm very grateful for having such goods friends as you," Yukina said slowly, gesturing to both girls. They nodded and waited for her to continue.

"But--its my brother," she stammered, and unable to control herself, she burst into tears.

"Oh Yukina," Botan said, coming over to the ice demon and putting her arms around her. She led the girl to the sofa so that all three of them could talk together.

Yukina managed to wipe her face, only to find a handful of small shiny colored stones on her face. Fancy that, for such a gift.

"Here, we'll string these up on the tree," Keiko offered, taking the glittering objects out of Yukina's hand. Automatically a few more jewels trickled out of her eyes and onto her lap. "You'd better stop before we're drowning in diamonds," Botan warned her.

Yukina managed a weak smile and twisted her handkerchief in her hands. "Now tell me, what about your brother?"

"I think he hates me!! I never even saw him, and I'm sure he despises me!!" Yukina cried out.

Botan got a very tight and upset look on her face, but said nothing. "How do you know that's for sure?" she said weakly. For a Grim Reaper, Botan had a terribly grim job of keeping things intact-like herself. One slip of the tongue and Yukina's brother certainly would make things merry hell for her. But now poor Botan's heart went out to Yukina and she struggled to find the right words.

"Boys can be a nuisance sometimes," Keiko said gently holding Yukina's hand. "They can't express themselves so well. Maybe your brother is concerned that you wouldn't approve of him...or he's just shy."

"Do you think so?" Yukina looked at her wistfully. "But, its not true at all. I do care about him-I'm worried he might be in pain, or sick and I'm powerless to do anything about it."

Botan rubbed the back of her neck and coughed. "Keiko's right. Boys can be very mysterious sometimes. Did you think we'd ever imagine how far Yusuke and Kuabara could go from two teenaged punks and school flunks?"

Keiko suddenly pointed a knitting needle at Botan in a menacing way. "Don't make fun of Yusuke like that," she said. "He's turned out to be something very special."

Botan took Yukina by the shoulders and looked at her squarely in the eye. "I'm sure that's the same for your brother. You have no idea what he's like so-just hope for the best. And believe me, I think he'd be very flattered to have someone as nice as you for a sister. It just takes time to get these feelings out. You think you can wait a little longer?"

Yukina gulped and nodded with a weak smile. Botan gave her a large hopeful grin.

"Good. Now lets finish decorating for tomorrow."

Yukina got up and began to spin giant snowflakes in her hands with delight, feeling a little better than before. "I put a spell on them, so they won't turn into water for a few days," she said before offering them to Keiko. The brown haired girl strung the large star shaped white glittering objects with gold thread and along with chains of shiny stones, started to adorn the large fur tree in a corner of the room.

"Ekichi, what are you doing?" Keiko called from the ladder. The striped cat's head peeped out of the ceramic bowl before tossing a ball of yarn out of the mess of knitting threads. Ekichi began to bat the fuzzy yellow yarn ball back and forth. "Kuabara has got to keep an eye on that cat," Keiko muttered.

"Kurama, it looks terrible!!" Botan moaned. The other two girls looked up as Botan was unwrapping the paper from a large evergreen wreath. "Oh no, I didn't think it would wilt so soon," the blue haired girl moaned as she held up the wreath. The thin needles on the tree were nearly all dry brown twigs with very little forest green coloring within the circle of fur pine needles. Kurama took the wreath from her, his green eyes sparkling with a bit of gold magic.

"Let me see what I can do," he offered gently. Allowing his fingertips to touch the wreath, the girls watched the fox demon summon strength before letting it filter into the wreath. Keiko's eyes grew wide as the brownish tint in the wreath began to fade away, only to be replaced with olive green.

"Wow. ." The gray and green tint slowly became brighter and brighter until the wreath was a healthy dark rich green and the fragrant scent of pine needles could be smelled across the room. "That's wonderful!!" Botan exclaimed.

"Just a little spirit of the season," he smiled as he attached a large cranberry red bow to the wreath. "I'm hanging this up outside. I'll see everyone tomorrow at the party," he said.

"And Yukina?" She looked up at the slim young man with red bangs in his face. Surprised at all outcomes, but he gently took her hand and kissed it. "Don't stop praying. Your brother loves you, no matter what." He took the wreath and carefully went out the door. Even after it closed, Yukina stood there like a silent statue, hands held over her beating heart.

A-A-A

Communication is a gift that all creatures posses. Every living thing talks and breaths but we don't always know what they say. I've been given the gift of listening to all the sounds and smells of nature as it flourishes and changes from season to season. Yes, I can even hear music and storms within the silence. I have to....otherwise I would never be able to understand him.

His silence and sulking is a code that is nearly impossible to break. I say "nearly" because all our years together have helped me read his language of sealed lips and harsh glances. He's like a volcano, all brewing on the inside but seems like a still mountain from afar. He can be quite a mountain of trouble just like me. We're just in two separate but very close parallel lines. I have to translate everything that goes on between us.

Kurama adjusted the wreath on the front door and stepped back. Perfect. He straightened his collar and began to walk into the whiteness briskly. The short black haired young man accompanied him as the snow dusted their heads with lace-like spots of ice. Here goes nothing . . .

Silence.

Translation: He wants me to say something, so I do.

"She's worried. And unhappy," Kurama said coolly. A pair of dark red eyes continued to stare out into the white winter world, refusing to make eye contact with him.

"Hn."

Translation: He understands, but doesn't know what to think of it. I interpret further.

"Only the truth will come out within time", Kurama said. The other one finally spoke in a low tone edged with the sharpness of a knife.

"What she doesn't know won't hurt her." His feet made a softly muffled crunching noise in the snow. "This IS hurting her," Kurama said, his voice getting a bit louder, but not too harsh.

"If you tell her, you will hurt even more and I will rip your arms out of your sockets," he threatened Kurama.

"You should've been her brother. You'd be better for Yukina," he added.

Translation: He thinks I hold the solution to this mess. But I am just a bystander, I cannot say anything. The truth is his responsibility and it's more difficult than fighting off a thousand monsters.

"She wants her brother and no one else," Kurama spoke. Finally, Hiei stopped in his tracks and gave a cold and short laugh. "Ha-she wants what doesn't exist. I'm a bastard idiot, a thief, and a fool. What does a beautiful winter goddess like her want for kin? Its better this way."

"When are you going to tell her?" Kurama asked tactfully.

"Hn. Never", came the answer. "And it will stay that way."

Translation: Eventually

Hiei reminds me Chiba Mamoru, a good friend of mine with an overall quiet disposition that masks his inner would lay down his life for his friends if any threat fell upon them. We both use roses--beautiful but deadly weapons--for that reason. But his tedious past and a cryptic tale of reincarnation press a heavy load of stress on Mamoru's mind and body. His human mind would tear in half if he did not find an outlet to contain memories of a past life. For now Mamoru goes around like a phantom, and masks his identity at night for a sense of sanity. He can keep his personal feelings secure inside and use the mask as a shield against the cruel world.

Perhaps that is what my friend needs to do. He must mask himself too.

"At least let her know that you don't hate her", Kurama suggested.

"Hate her? Gami. . .if anything happened to her," Hiei clenched his teeth and slapped a hand to his bandaged forehead. "I would rather die a million deaths than see her in pain."

"Is this not pain then? Making her fret day after day about her brother's welfare?"

The shine in Hiei's ruby tinted eyes adjusted, as if some light within his head was being switched on with madness. His friend took a step back, bracing for an answer. "She'll hear from her brother," Hiei announced. "Tell no one else, though." With that, he suddenly took a sharp leap into the air, his dark body knifing against the cold clear wind and frost. Kurama looked into the sky and uttered a prayer of relief, as well as a sigh of gratitude. "Good luck, friend."

A-A-A

Hiei was in better luck than he thought he'd be. For one thing, the festive world of humanity was also a time of festivity and merriment in the Makai. Bonfires were being lit, spirits were dancing, and snow demons whirled around huge gnarled trees in streaks of white and gold. It was a night of greater strength, power, and perhaps luck would cross someone's path. No one paid attention to the short fire demon with a white starburst of hair within his black head, nor the white cloth around his head. He would not need the Jagan eye tonight, not at all. He would need the help of an old comrade to carry out this task. (Friend wasn't a good term for someone that nearly cracked your skull open).

"Gold speaks a universal tongue,:" he reminded himself. Hiei slipped a hand into the deep pocket of his black robes and fingered the round circular disks within there.

A-A-A

Zedya was short, thickset, and heavy. This coarse light colored hair lightly coated the top of his nearly bald head and was more generous around his large protruding ears. He had it on his thick large hands and sausage-like fingers that could easily snap Hiei's arm. Tonight was not combat, though. Tonight was business.

"Fancy seeing you here tonight," Zedya laughed as the fire demon entered his dimly lit cave. His laugh was deep and rumbling like boulders tumbling down a mountain. "No hard feelings over that old duel we had last month?"

Hiei tossed jet black bangs out of his eyes and glanced at the old demon. "That's what what I came for tonight."

One thick eyebrow arched up. "Oh?" Zedya asked.

"I need an incantation for dream breaking. And it must be abstract," he added with sharp punctuation.

Zedya scratched the top of his head. "Abstract? Well, the flow of energy is usually much better at this time of the year anyway. You were wise to pick Christmas eve to do business."

He hobbled over to a rack full of bottles and began to move them back and forth. "It may be holiday but it's no present, I warn you," Zedya said over his shoulder. "This is still going to cost you something."

Hiei removed a handful of gold from his pocket and let the yellow coins land with a loud clanking noise on the wooden table. The small brown eyes glinted in the dim room.

"That be fine, boy. Very fine. Here, you want this one," he said, picking up bottle of something white and misty with gold and red flecks in it. A miracle it was, that the delicate glassware didn't shatter in his large hands. Zedya held the bottle carefully as he placed it in Hiei's hands.

"Is it a good one?" he asked, rubbing a thumb across the bottle.

"Yep. A bit romantic, though. Full of stardust and sky clouds. Once I started mixing the incantation together it sort of brewed that way."

"I don't want hearts and flowers. I want concealment," Hiei warned harshly. Another raspy laugh escaped Zedya's throat.

"No problem there, you'll get your money's worth. Just wait until after the moon waxes and wanes tonight before you use it. Otherwise the telepathic connection won't work before midnight." Zedya rubbed his jaw curiously. "Got a woman you're interested in, eh?"

He expected silence if not a tongue lashing from the fire demon.

Instead, Hiei held up the bottle of liquid and gave one of his very rare, very truthful smiles. "Hn. Yes," he dared to say.

A-A-A

Midnight came. He let out breaths in the thin icy air, watching them form into small puffs of smoke. The moon was full and bright, allowing all the blanketed snow to bathe everything in thick pearly white light. The air was not still, but restless and tingling with magic. He held the bottle in his hand and closed his eyes. He could see her now, brushing her light green hair as it cascaded down her back and framed her delicate porcelain like face. He knew he was lucky to have such a beautiful one as his sister, and maybe within the depths of his own mind, Hiei hoped she could think of him as attractive as well-a brother that wouldn't put her to shame. But that would be another time.

He bit the cork off with his sharp white teeth before tilting his head back. Hiei gulped down the potion, enjoying the ticklish sensation of spices shoot down his spine and into his stomach. The empty bottle fell to the ground and broke. He could feel his body beginning to dissolve, starting to fade away and it wasn't more than a few minutes that he could see her.

Yukina was sleeping peacefully, both hands folded under one cheek. All was still around her, but the prayers she had just uttered were ushering in a spirit. Like a phantom falcon, the black figure began to ebb into the room like a bit of smoke. The wispy and dark thing wafted around her, gently caressing her face. It swirled around her hair, causing her light colored bangs to blow in the magic. Then the black figure swiftly slipped itself into her dream. . . .

A-A-A

Never had she been in such a beautiful place. The air around her was full of thick clouds in tints of lavender and pink, giving off a slightly sweet fragrance against the glow of the sky. Yukina found herself floating on a cloud in a never ending sky of golden waves, and she put a hand to her forehead to see what was further. Could it be? Yes, it was!! "Yukina," came a voice.

He was so far away, and the dream was so crystallized that she could barely make out a figure standing on another cloud just beyond the horizon. He was not monstrously tall, nor did his voice sound harsh and commanding. She was relieved-she hoped he wouldn't have been vicious. No, not too tall at all- just about her height. And dark, but dignified.

"Are you. . are you. ." she didn't want to get her hopes up. Not yet, and not now.

"Hai, I am your brother," the figure said. The voice was very low and muffled, as if all the snow of the day was piled between them. Yukina strained her eyes to see in between the sparkles of stardust and floating colored bubbles around them, but the black figure remained at distance.

"I was always afraid that you were suffering, and I couldn't do anything to help you," she stammered quickly.

He turned his head aside for a moment. "I'm not suffering-your worries were futile. But," he stretched out a hand like a long black rod "Not in vain. Just know I will be there for you, if you need me, Yukina."

She wanted to run to him, but feared any sudden movements would shatter the dream. "I DO need you!! Please, please tell me where you are so I can share in your love!!" The last word was a stranger to him and he refused to acknowledge it. He gave a snort, a noise of resentment and scoffing.

"I have no love to give, my sister. My past was bitter and there is little blossoming within me," he said bitterly.

"Then take my love-take it, brother," she insisted. "If mine is not enough, we will find love together. Will you not tell me even your name, if I can't see you better? Oh, I wish I could just see your face," she sighed.

A million questions and demands were stirring within Hiei. He had half an impulse like fire, to take the shaking, trembling girl in his arms and look into her ruby colored eyes. He wanted to tell her everything and ask for forgiveness, for this masquerade that had plagued her all this time. But this was only half an impulse. Pride and a need for protection will keep one from doing certain things. Love certainly can break those boundaries of security, but it was his will against her wish. Time was running out, and he could feel it. His body was starting to pull backwards and the coldness of winter was on his back.

"Goodbye," was all he said.

"Wait!!" she cried, stretching out her arms to him. But the dream was beginning to dissolve; all the colors were ever so slowly fading from their rainbow bubble tints into shining white mist. "When will I ever see you again?" Yukina sobbed, feeling the quivering curiosity of living with a secret starting to melt inside of her. The tears began to trickle down her face-not gemstones, but real tears of water and nothing more.

"I will always watch you . . .my sister," he said softly. These last two words were said in hesitance, as if he struggled to pull them out of his contained mouth. Unable to contain her joy any longer, Yukina blew a kiss to the figure whose body was beginning to blur into the mist.

"I love you! I love you, my brother!!" she called out in a vibrating voice, hands clasped tightly together. "Never forget that you have a sister that thinks about you every day and loves you dearly," she begged him. Could he ever bring himself to say such words?

The most he could do, was tell what he knew about himself. "I will never forget you. Never!"

A-A-A

Yukina opened her eyes at once. The windows were wide open and snow was swirling in the room with a life of its own. Feathery cool flakes were falling on her skin and melting into little star light puddles. But wait- something black just flapped out the window. She leapt out of bed and ran to the open windows, heart pounding.

"Wait!! Brother!!" she cried, hands flying to those open shutters-the open gates of her sibling. But no one was there, no blackness against the white land and ever glowing ice blue sky.

Yukina held her breath and put a hand to her chest.

"It wasn't a dream. It wasn't a dream," she told herself softly. She put a hand to her cheek-it was warm, even though snow had soaked the rest of her skin so cool. The girl threw herself into the bed and turned over, eyes shut tight. She fought back the tears welling up in her eyes, and the beating song in her heart. "Please. . please. ." she begged unhappily. This was no way to feel on Christmas, not a time for being alone and feeling barren of any love.

Lo and behold, she felt a soft tongue on her wet cheek and turned her head. There was a tiny kitten, no more than a little fuzz ball of pearly gray licking her face. The little creature looked at her and wriggled its small pink nose and whiskers. Could it be? Yes, it had to be true. This kitten was from him.

"Oh, you little darling," she whispered gently, not wanting to frighten the poor creature. The kitten gave a small "mew" and nudged its head further against her hand. Yukina cupped the kitten in her hands, noticing how utterly small and innocent it was, looking at her with those large shiny gray-green eyes. She could already feel the kitten's heart beating within her very hand, and she cuddled the creature against her chest.

"Come kitty, we have a party today!!" she said in a peal of merry laughter, twirling around with the cat in her arms.

A-A-A

That morning:

Booted feet quickly came down the stairs in a soft padded noise. He slipped a jacket on and reached for the doorknob.

"Going out so soon, Suichi?" asked his mother. Kurama glanced at his mother who was standing in the doorway, still wearing her morning robe of lavender silk.

"It's so early in the morning, Mother. Why didn't you sleep in a little today?" her son said with concern.

"I don't mind at all." The kitchen was spotlessly clean and a pot of fresh hot tea was already sitting on the stovetop next to a tray of crisp buns.

"Oh my goodness," she said with an exclamation of tender joy. Shoiri noticed a large crystal vase full of luscious red roses on the table. She came over to the bouquet and buried her face in the scented flowers.

"Why Suichi, they're just beautiful! How on earth did you get such lovely flowers in such dead weather like this?" "It isn't all dead," he said softly. "Merry Christmas, Mother."

The woman brushed red bangs out of her son's eyes and gently kissed him on the forehead He gave a gracious smile of joy. "So your son pleases you?"

"Of course. All parents receive happiness from their children." Kurama remembered the events of yesterday and the question was restless within him.

"And other kin. Do all siblings in families like each other?" he asked.

"I'm certain they do. Why do you ask?" she studied his son's face with surprise. "Is someone at school having a problem with his family?"

"It is a complicated situation." Kurama chose to speak quietly and with reserve. "I'm not at liberty to say."

Shoiri wrapped her arms around herself. "I believe that families have an obligation to one another be they spouses, siblings, or other close relatives. It is a matter of honor and compassion to protect people who share the same bloodline and even more, the same lifeline. Fortunate is a house where peace and prosperity endure because the people within its walls give one another the love they need."

fHis mother's wise words seem to soothe the very question on his mind. Kurama nodded knowingly.

"What will you do today while I am out?" he asked her. "Rest a bit more?"

Shoiri put a finger to her temple in thought. "Today I shall go to the shrine and give thanks for what I have been given: a son. A beautiful, gracious and kindhearted son who has been my joy and comfort all these years." Another kiss on the cheek, and he was out.

Youko Kurama turned his head back once and silently blessed the woman in the house. "You have not only given me the safety of your womb, but safety of your heart," he said softly. "Merry Christmas, Mother."

A-A-A

"Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!!" Yusuke laughed, banging the door open with delight. He and Keiko strutted in, their hands weighed down with bags of good food and shiny present packages. Yusuke pushed his cap back off his head and looked up. "Hey look, mistletoe!" he nudged Keiko, looking up at the doorway.

"Yusuke, you don't expect me to-do you?" she demanded. He only grinned and winked at her. Keiko smiled and touched her lips.

"All right, just for now," she said and gave him a light peck on the cheek. Yusuke frowned.

"Come on, Keiko. Where are the hot ones? The fireworks? The tongue hockey- "

SMACK!!!! Yusuke rubbed his smarting cheek, grateful that she couldn't see him smirking.

"Yusuke, you pervert!!" Keiko shouted, snatching her bags and stalking through the room towards the kitchen.

"About time!!" Botan said, pouring drinks out for everyone.

"Where's Kurama?" Yusuke shrugged and opened a tin of cupcakes.

"Beats me. I guess Yukina isn't coming, huh?"

"Here I am!!" she called. Botan immediately noticed the smile on her face, the sparkle in her eyes, and even more-the cat she was holding. "You look much better than yesterday," she noted. "I am-I want everyone to have a Merry Christmas," she announced. Kuabara popped out from behind the table right next to her.

"You look so beautiful today, Yukina!" Indeed, she looked like the Snow Queen herself in a new kimono of light blue with tiny gold flowers embroidered on the fabric. She wore a matching gold hair bow tied into her pale green hair. "Thank you, Kuabara. And Merry Christmas." She gave him one of those smiles that was a cross between "enchanting" and "paradise". Kubara's face grew crimson and with a goofy look on his face, he rubbed the top of his orange haired head.

"Botan-chan, I must thank you for your advice," Yukina said kindly as she turned to her friend. "I want you to have this as a token of our friendship." She produced the wrapped up package from the day before and handed it to Botan. The blue haired girl unwrapped it carefully while Yukina clasped her hands behind her back.

"Yukina, how lovely!!!" she said cheerily. Nestled within the cotton was a pair of light amethyst colored earrings fastened with small gold wire-like strands. Botan carefully slipped the earrings on and turned around as they dangled from her ears. "I hope you didn't cry over this," she said to her friend.

"Of course not," Yukina told her.

"Finally! We thought you wouldn't show up," Kurama said. Everyone noticed Hiei slouched in the doorway with a sideways glance. But his usual sulking expression was gone, only to be replaced with a rather mysterious look. "Hn- so here I am," he muttered. Yukina noticed the kitten lift its little head up a bit more and its ears twitch as the short dark haired young man came closer.

Hiei blinked twice to clear his vision. The first was the brightened expression on his sister's face; smoothed by the dream of last night. She looked rejuvenated, refreshed, and alive as a freshly watered plant in a garden. But was he still asleep in some wondrous fantasy that looked too good to be true? The other vision in front of his eyes was the entire atmosphere of the room, as well as all the vibrancy within the walls. He was startled how it was so . . . colorful.

The large fur tree was adorned with ornaments of glistening brown pinecones and green stars with tiny bright cherries fastened on the branch tips. The sun was causing all the icicles along the window to sparkle with the brilliance of diamonds, their indigo and purple light winking between the white dazzled like morning dew drops. The fire log was aglow with tongues of crimson licking around the wood and next to this was the largest pile of presents he had ever seen. So the ningen give each other treasures of their free will, he mused to himself. Instead of having to steal treasures yourself, others present them to you in fancy boxes with ribbons and shimmering paper as a gesture of appreciation and affection.

"Come on, the cider will get cold," Botan scolded as she poured hot cups of sweet spicy red brew into their cups.

"Ok, ok!! Drink up so we can start on the presents," Yusuke declared. Keiko glared at him. Before another fight could break out, Kuabara noticed the cat.

"What's his name?" he asked, looking at the kitten. Yukina smiled and scratched the kitten behind the ears.

"Onisan, because my brother gave him to me." No one saw Hiei stopped with the cup barely to his lips, while his concealed but flickering heart was listening madly with the intensity of a candle's flame dancing in the wind.

"Aw, isn't he just adorable!" Kuabara held the kitten up in the air and tickled it under the chin. The cat gave a deep purr of satisfaction. "Hey, Onisan-I like that!! He's a great cat. Onisan, you have to meet Ekichi, she'll love you." Kuabara put the kitten on the floor right next to Ekichi and the two cats began to play on the floor in delight.

"Bottoms up," Yusuke said, draining his cider. He suddenly gagged and spit it out, spraying the liquid all over.

"Ugh-Yusuke!!" the girls shouted.

"Ubb!! Hot!!" he muttered, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.

"We'd better stick to eggnog next time," Kurama suggested. Everyone had a good laugh at that one, except for the cats which had both gotten wet with the cider. Poor Onisan looked upset at being so sticky, but Ekichi simply picked up the smaller feline creature by the scruff of his neck and set him down near the fire. She began to lick Onisan behind the ears as he curled up into a little fuzz ball. "Gee, Yukina. Looks like your brother did both of us a favor," Kuabara couldn't help saying.

"Now, onto the presents!" Yusuke announced. There was the sound of rustling and tearing before Onisan found himself buried under piles of crisp and crinkly paper. Ribbons flew in the air, tape was peeled off, and exclamations of joy shouted out as everyone opened their gifts. "Here you go," Botan said gently putting down a large saucer of milk for the kitten. But instead of diving his small head into the drink, Onisan darted into the thicket of wrapping paper like an excited child. Botan put her hands on her hips and smiled.

"How about that," she thought to herself. Excited, the cat's fuzzy paws began to tear at the paper and he buried himself under the paper like a mole before Onisan's head peeped out the other side in surprise. The kitten dashed around the tree and began a livid game of hide and seek with Ekichi.

"This one is for you," Keiko said, handing Yusuke a package. He ripped it open and discovered a pair of darkly tinted slick designer shades.

"Not bad," he said, slipping them on and glancing in the mirror. "Didn't want to wait until summer?" Keiko gave a click of the tongue and flicked them off his face.

"Silly! It's so no one will recognize you, and that will keep you from getting your lights punched out." He shrugged. "Fair enough."

"I'm warning you Yusuke, I want to see those pretty brown eyes no matter what," she smiled.

Yusuke set the shades down next to a stack of new crisp manga comic books and a leather jacket before reaching for another package. "Nako-Dragon II?" he shouted with joy upon looking at the bloody scene splattered across the box. Kuabara looked up from his CD's and new sneakers to see his friend waving the video game in the air madly, a large grin plastered on his face. "Man, you are the best," Yusuke said to him.

"Of course I am. One condition, Urameshi: we play Nako-Dragon II on my screen this weekend," Kuabara said to him. "Loser has to buy Dragon III for next Christmas." Yusuke stuck out a hand. "Deal!" he exclaimed as Kuabara slapped his hand and their pact was sealed.

"That leads me to your gift," he said to Keiko. "I hope its something other than sports equipment," Keiko warned him. Yusuke ordered her to close her eyes, and at once Keiko felt something small and compact in her lap.

She opened her eyes and gasped to see an exquisite music box carved out of the finest white wood as if it was made of ivory. The wood was delicately engraved with tiny curves and scrolls; little hearts and flowers adorned the sides while the carving of a majestic bird spread its wings across the top of the box.

"Oh, Yusuke-san," she gasped with surprise as Keiko carefully lifted the top of the box and peeped inside. There on a bed of dark red velvet lay a shining gold chain with a sugar pink heart. Yusuke took the necklace out of the box and carefully place it around Keiko's neck. He took a step back. "Well?" Keiko's fingers fondled the heart for a moment, and then her eyes were full of trembling joy as she smiled at him. "I like it, I like it a lot," she exclaimed. "But I love you even more, Yusuke!!"

Keiko cried with joy as she dove for him and they both collided into the empty boxes. CRUNCH!! "Oops!" There was a funny noise as the boxes were flattened under their weight, and now Keiko and Yusuke were the ones buried under everything.

"Keiko-chan!!" Yukina exclaimed. She rushed over and finding her friend's hand, managed to pull her out. "Are you all right?" Keiko laughed nervously and blushed. "Yes, I'm fine. I think I got a bit carried away there. Oh, but before I forget," she winked a brown eye. Keiko pulled out two identical bundles wrapped in crepe paper and adorned with bunny stickers. "Yes, lets see. The blue one is for you, the purple for Botan," Keiko hummed before handing each girl a package. Yukina's hands found a lovely warm handmade turquoise scarf with delicate fringes on both ends.

"Keiko-chan, you shouldn't have," Botan declared. Yet she seemed just thrilled at her own lavender scarf and proceeded to wrap it around her neck a few times before striking a pose. "How do I look?" she asked. Botan jutted her chin out so far and thrust her nose into the air with such pomp and flourish that Yukina started to laugh at her funny expression.

"Interesting," Kurama murmured as he pulled out a bizarre spongy looking plant from a paper bag. "What did you say this was, Yusuke?"

"A Kihago. It's from the Amazon and you don't need to water it at all," Yusuke explained. He cocked his head to the side and scratched his head. "Well, that's what the saleslady said it was. At least I didn't get you a Venus fly trap," he added.

"No, I'm glad you didn't get me anything that devours other creatures," Kurama smiled. He stroked the smooth fern-like leaves of the Kihago carefully, and then sat it down to his other presents composed of a silk tie, cologne, and some novels. Then his attention turned to someone else.

"Before you refuse, just take a look," Kurama said as he slid a long thin package over to Hiei. The fire demon's curiosity had gotten the better of him and without a word he unwrapped the brown paper and held his breath. It was a weapon-a bit longer than his katana but a truly remarkable piece of artwork. He held it up and immediately felt strength surging into his arm with a vibrating power of the delight to hold a sword like this. The long slim silver seemed to shimmer in the light and the glint on the blade was finished with a sharp touch. He turned the handle over, noticing the inlaid jade carving of a dragon wrapped three times around the handle. He gripped the handle, taking a quick swing.

"Watch it! Your going to shish-kabob someone," Yusuke said, ducking just as the sword swished in the air. "Hn. Its good. Very good." Hiei looked at his red haired friend and added, "Thank you."

"Yukina, I got you this," Kuabara announced, handing her a hand made package. She pried the box open to find a circular band of deep brown shiny shells. He looked a little embarrassed. "I know you can get whatever jewels you want, so uh, I though you'd like something a little more. . natural!!"

She slipped the shell bracelet onto her slim wrist, but it was so big it fell off. Kuabara only looked more ashamed of himself. "Don't worry, Kazuma- san. I know what to do with it," she said. Yukina picked up the bracelet in one hand, her cat in the other. In a fluid easy movement, she slipped the braclet over Onisan's head, where it fit perfectly as a collar.

"See? It's just perfect! Arigatou." With that, he received a kiss on the cheek from the beautiful ice princess and Kuabara's own heart swelled with delight over Yukina and his own Christmas wish, which had just been fulfilled.

"Yuki-chan, I have something else for you," Kuabara said with delight. Hiei grimaced, hoping this wouldn't involve any more mouths. Kuabara started to search through the piles of stuffing and wrappers franticly. Everyone looked at him rummaging around while the kitten toppled into another box.

"Actually, it's for all of us if I can just find it. Lets see. . Hmmmm," he muttered diving into a deep box.

"Kuabara, why can't you just tell us what it is?" Yusuke said testily.

"I can't-then it wouldn't be a surprise," came his muffled voice. "AHA!! Arigatou, Onisan," he said pulling the cat out of the box. Between its teeth was a large plastic bag containing the funniest looking things that Yukina had ever seen. They looked like little clouds: small, square shaped clouds coated with white powder.

"Urameshi, you have the sweet potatoes?" Kuabara asked him.

"Hai, I'd better get the other food too," he said before dashing into the kitchen. Kuabara tore open the bag with his teeth and dumped a few squares out. He suddenly looked at Hiei, then down at his new sword. Hiei gripped onto it even tighter and glared.

"What do you want?" he demanded taking a step back.

Kuabara shook his hands in defense. "Hey hey, its nothing. I just want to borrow your sword for a minute. I'm not going to kill anyone with it," he promised. Hiei noticed everyone was looking at him, and he had to admit he was wondering what on earth was going on. Well, Kuabara wouldn't dare to do anything dangerous right here and now, not in front of Yukina. Just stupid.

"Hn. Fine," he said handing over the sword. Kuabara rushed over to the fire and began to mount the little white things on the sword.

"What on earth are you doing?" Botan asked him. "You think this is weird, just watch," he promised them. Hiei was getting very tense as his sword was now muffled with white puffs-what a ridiculous joke this was!! Blunt the weapon with those little puffy things until it was useless? But before he could say a word, Kuabara thrust the sword into the fire. "Um, Kazuma," Yukina began to say. He only chortled for a moment, then carefully pulled it out of the fire. Hiei jumped back to see the sword was on fire and the bits of white puff now had darkened into burnt brown. Kuabara blew out a bit of the fire on the sword before handing it to Yukina.

"Go on, try one!!" he said with delight. Her eyes opened with surprise.

"You burn clouds? What kind of ningen tradition is this?" demanded Hiei.

"Its not a tradition, its just a delicacy," Kurama assured him. "It's nearly a ritual when people retreat outdoors," he added. Yukina's small fingers pulled off one of the squares, but now half of it was coated in a thin brown shell and it was melting between her fingers. She put it in her mouth at once, chewed and swallowed. Hiei held his breath: was his sister going to be all right? What on earth was that orange haired buffoon up to now?

"It's delicious!! What is this?" she asked.

"Marshmallows. They taste the best over an open fire and....ah, here comes Urameshi with the rest of the stuff," Kuabara said waving a hand.

Yusuke staggered back with trays bearing sweet potatoes, cupcakes, spicy rolls, and mugs now filled with frothy hot chocolate. All the savory and sweet smells were tickling Hiei's nose, and he was surprised that Yukina had passed the sword around for everyone to taste. His fingers pulled one off, the sticky mess running through his fingers. He popped it into his mouth to keep the mess from burning his skin and was startled but delighted: it had a dark caramelized taste mixed with the burnt fragrance that was actually good, and the vanilla flavor spread over his tongue with a creamy texture.

"How do you like these so-called burnt clouds?" Kurama asked him as he ate one himself. Hiei managed to unstick his jaws from the gummy mess long enough to say: "Interesting candy."

There seemed to be no end of that unforgettable day: Keiko proudly displayed her hand made pastries, and these disappeared in a flash along with spicy gingerbread men. Then came the hot chocolate, which washed everything down with a thick creamy dark rich flavor that spread warmth into every part of their bodies. The sun rose higher into the sky as the icicles changed color from pale blue to indigo to mint green and the warm fire threw gold and red spots on everyone's happy faces. Yusuke kept arguing with Kuabara about the better way to defeat monsters in the video game, Keiko was gushing to Yukina about some new makeup that she wanted her to try, and Kurama was making amusing remarks while Botan kept giggling in her own merry way.

Hiei put down the empty mug and looked around him. Everyone was now roasting the sweet potatoes over the fire, eating and talking and laughing away with great pleasure and ease. He felt somewhat tired as he leaned back against the wall for a minute of quiet reflection. Was he satisfied? Well, he certainly felt better after such good food, and the sight of all the amazing gifts did make a willing surprise open up a window of thought to him. But he looked down into the mug, swirling a few drops of brown that were left in the very bottom. Wasn't there something more to this holiday than getting special trinkets and things to eat? Had he truly fulfilled his own obligation, if not given the gift most wanted by her? There was something missing; something he just had to make sure of . . .

Blinking back the sleepiness from the warm chocolate, Hiei got up and slowly walked over to the fire.

A-A-A

Yukina had never been so happy in all her life. Time went on, and while the others were still chatting about their gifts she found herself relaxing in a pleasant daze near the crackling fire with Onisan. Yukina had taken the ribbon from her hair and was letting the kitten bat at it back and forth for a few minutes.

"Hn."

She almost jumped at the utter sharp statement before realizing that someone had come over to her.

"Is this the sort of thing you wanted?" a voice asked. It was not cold or sneering, but abrupt, stiff, and awkward at addressing her. Kurama's friend was standing in front of her. He seemed to tower over the sitting girl and her pet. She noticed how good he looked in dark clothes, they enhanced his sharp features. He hadn't Kurama's cheerful personality or charisma, but his silence alone was some sort of modesty that very few males could say they had. Never wanting to see anyone in a state of evil, Yukina gave him a usual smile.

"You mean Onisan?" He nodded stiffly.

"Hai-is the cat pleasing to you?" he demanded. It was as if, as if, he wanted to insure her gift was meeting her approval.

"Oh yes. I couldn't have asked for anything better than Onisan. Although I wished I could have meet my brother in person," she said, not noticing how he averted his gaze from her and looked into the fire for a moment, "but it is the kindest thing in the world for him to do this for me. I hope he is also having a Merry Christmas right now."

"If you are happy, then I suppose he is," Hiei said. Yukina had an inkling idea about this mysterious fire demon. Could it be that he was afraid, or shy around women? That would account for his speaking so little. Then again, he hardly spoke to anyone that much. Near the fire, she watched as the flames seem to reflect into his very eyes; it was almost hypnotic how the golden tips of flames waved back and forth within the dark red gaze of his eyes. There was another person inside of him, someone within the bleak black darkness of his spirit that wanted to break out, that wanted to say something. But what was it?

"Hiei," she said, timidly putting a hand on his arm. He glanced at her hand in curiosity-an intruder, even one of benevolence, was strange to him. "If there is anything I can do for you, anything at all to help you, let me know. I can heal people, and I-"

"I'm fine," he said coldly, irritably and he stepped back to shake off her touch. She had assumed he had a weakness, and it had insulted him-offended him-and she knew it. Yukina blushed and drew her hand back, rather shaken by his remark.

"I-I'm sorry," she said clumsily, nervously pushing back some hair behind her ear. "But you're his friend," she gestured to Yusuke. "I'd like to do something. I suppose, because he's made me so happy," she lifted up Onisan above her head and began to coo to the kitten in a merry voice. "I want everyone to be happy as I am."

"Why does family mean so much to you anyway?" he demanded. Onisan's tail swished back and forth for a moment as she thought.

"I suppose. . . because family is where you really find yourself-where you belong and what you need to do with your life." Reality has it, that he was never wanted from birth, and that pain was also wincing inside, but he forced it down. Nothing was ever her fault anyway.

"Do with your life," he muttered, and just then, thoughts and memories began to stir in his head like a jigsaw puzzle coming together.

Yusuke defending Keiko, screaming that she couldn't die. . . .Kurama always struggling to do anything that his mother needed. . . . even annoying and overly loud Kuabara could be counted on to correct anything wrong. . . .

"OOOOOOHHH!!" Yusuke shouted, pointing to the two of them. Yukina glanced up and blushed-she and Hiei were right under the mistletoe.

"Ha!! Ha!! Ha!!! Well, well-can't get out of this one, can you?" Yusuke gawked. Hiei gave him a typical I-will-kill-you look, but it did nothing in light of their surrounding. "He's right, you know. Tradition says that you must kiss," Kurama smirked.

"It's just a stupid superstition. It doesn't meant anything," he retorted.

"Now now, be nice Hiei," Botan said, wagging a finger. "You don't want to hurt Yukina's feelings, do you?"

Only Kuabara was looking very uneasy. "Guys, lets have this one off the hook, ok? I don't think Shorty wants to be kissed-"

"Why, you've all made a mistake," Yukina said as a matter of fact. Everyone looked at her in surprise. "Onisan was right under the mistletoe, not me- see?" She pointed a finger up at the berries, then right down to the cat in her arms.

"Here Onisan," she said, extending the cat out to Hiei. "Give Hiei a kiss."

Now it was Kuabara's turn to start laughing away. Yukina dropped the cat into Hiei's arms at once while everyone else held their breath. The creature was no bigger than his hands put together, but Hiei allowed the cat to nestle in his arms for a brief moment. Before he could do anything, Onisan looked at him with large green eyes and automatically licked him on the nose.

"Uh oh-we'd better run for cover," Yusuke warned. It must have been part of the holiday's miraculous wonders, but he didn't explode into rage. How could he take his anger out on his sister's present? "You little spitfire," Hiei muttered, but he didn't seem to mind that much. The cat began to bat at his black bangs for fun.

"He's a bit of a fighter-make sure he can run around," Hiei said, giving the cat back to Yukina. "I'll see everyone later."

"You're not staying?" she asked with disappointment.

"Hee hee, Shorty can't stand being around us. He'll be back for New Year if we have to drag him out of hell," Kuabara joked.

"Precisely," Hiei said. He managed to locate his new gift, which was still slightly sticky with a bit of white fluff on the blade. At least it would come in hand besides combat. Wiping the blade, Hiei strapped it to his side and turned to leave.

He opened the door and stepped outside, inhaling the crisp clean air and feeling the red sun on his face. "Hiei?" He turned around once, only once to let his gaze linger on the beautiful girl, small feline creature, and door flooded with laughter and bright light. "Merry Christmas," she said in a voice warmer than the summer's sunrise. She expected "Hn" or a grunt to come from his mouth, at the most.

Not a full turn around, followed by a deep bow of reverence and respect-he was bowing as if she was a goddess. He lifted his black haired head slowly, the faintest bit of a smile tugging at his features. "Merry Christmas, Yukina. Take care of Onisan."

"I will. I promise," she nodded before turning inside. Only once the door closed and locked with a soft "click" safely did he add under his breath: . . "My sister."

"Ok everyone, the great Urameshi has yet another surprise," Yusuke announced. "What, what is it?" Botan inquired. Yusuke reached behind the couch and produced a large object carved out of wood and polished to a dark red shine. He carefully adjusted one of the long thin strings adorning the object, then his fingers plucked at the strings producing a sweet tune of music that flickered around the room and tickled everyone's ears.

"Yusuke- you learned to play the guitar!!" Keiko exclaimed with delight.

"Yeah, I started a while ago and didn't want anyone to find out," he grinned sheepishly. "Now how about a song," he hummed, toying with a melody. "Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. . Oh what fun it is to run from Kuabara every day," he sang. Everyone else laughed but the song's victim. "That aint funny Yusuke," Kuabara retorted. "Aw, it's all in good fun," he laughed.

"I agree," Hiei muttered under his breath. No one knew that at this moment, the fire demon had placed himself on the roof right near the chimney where he could hear every bit of the conversation going on.

PLINK! PLANK! PLONK! Three loud awkward notes of music were heard, pounding at once. "Onisan, come off the piano," Yukina said. Then there came a few cords of rich piano music. "Kurama, you can play too?" she asked. His long flexible fingers began to rattle away at the instrument.

"Just a bit. Now, lets see what other songs we know," he hummed. Just before breaking out in a chorus from a popular J-pop group, he waited for everyone to gather around so they could sing together.

A-A-A

Shoiri lit a candle and let the smoke curl into gray shapes in the air before vanishing. She sprinkled a handful of incense around the candle and bowed her head in prayer. For a few minutes, the silence and aroma of the room surrounded her. Then she felt the presence of another as a young woman stepped softly into the shrine, her feet moving softly on the stone ground. "Forgive me," the girl said gently. "I hope I didn't disturb you."

"Not at all. Come, do you have thanks to give too?" The girl nodded and stepped forward. That is the strangest thing, when spirits can pray to other spirits. But like the wind, they can scatter their messages around and pray that others can hear them within the boundaries of the possible. Yukina laid one single shining pearl on the stone statue and bowed her head with respect while Shoiri looked on.

"For someone that died?" The girl shook her head and clasped her hands together. "For one that is alive and I hope to see him again." Shoiro nodded in approval and gave the girl a candle. Yukina lit it and whispered her parting words. "Ai shiteru, my brother."

He was far away by space and time, but not by soul. He saw it all, and also whispered into the whistling wind:

"Ai shiteru, my sister."

Tell me this wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. And Happy Holidays to everyone ^_^

Translations:

Baka-stupid

Gomen sai- I am sorry

Arigatou-Thank you

Hai-Yes

Iie-No

Ai Shiteru-I love you

Ningen-human

Makai-Demon world

Ningenkai-Human world