Warnings: Ownership of nothing, free use of creative license, eventual yaoi yumminess. Any information that may exist prior to the offical cannon series is ignored. Language, violence, and maybe a little senseless death, too. Break out the party hats.
"Come on, man. You know you wanna."
Long, pale fingers wrapped around a porcelain mug filled with tea. A pretty face lowered, hiding all expression behind long, red bangs.
Yusuke Urameshi grinned.
"You'd enjoy it!" he sing-songed, reaching across the table to swing a playful punch at his friend's shoulder. "You'd have fun. Like whoa on a stick."
A quiet laugh shook his companion's slim shoulders.
"Like whoa on a stick?" he murmured, lips barely moving. "I believe your vocabulary is at an all-time low, Yusuke, though I must confess that I did not believe such was possible."
"I know. Great, ain't it?"
"Is it some kind of odd sexual reference?"
He thought about it a couple moments, then shrugged carelessly. "Who cares?" Slouching in his chair, Yusuke began to kick at his friend's shoes under the table until, at last, the other boy reluctantly looked up, green eyes crashing with brown.
It had been years since Yusuke had last seen the fox. Two, at the very least, though he had been sure to keep in touch via the phone. Still, it was strange to see those eyes so flat and dull, completely devoid of the spark of mischief they had once held continuously.
Kuwabara, who saw Kurama at least once a week as they met up to study together, had been the one to alert Yusuke to the gradually worsening change in their friend, and the need for intervention.
"I nag him enough," the large boy had said with a very forced show of being casual, stuffing his hands into his pockets and shifting uncomfortably. "He's not gonna listen to me. But you could always get through to him, Urameshi."
The change in Kurama was so obvious now that Yusuke was ashamed he hadn't noticed it on his own. He liked to claim that it wasn't his fault he hadn't seen his friend – Kurama was busy at university now, after all, and Keiko had forced Yusuke to go back and finish high school. In addition, Kurama didn't fight anymore, so Yusuke didn't even see him when he went on missions. The fox called regularly for short chats, but the manipulative demon was too good at making everything sound normal. Happy, even.
"You know you want to."
"All I know," the fox sighed, "Is that I want you to stop pestering me. Yusuke, I have no desire to rule Makai."
"Neither do I. Neither does Kuwabara. But Kurama…this tournament…I mean, I have to be there, anyway. If you and Kuwabara come, it can be just like old times again. Hell, even Hiei'll probably be there."
Sighing heavily, Kurama looked away. Kurama's sigh hung on the air like a singular rain cloud on a summer's day. Yusuke knew when Kurama sighed like that that he had won – as long as he was careful, and waited for Kurama to speak first.
Popping the top on the soda he had been given, the dark haired boy let his eyes scan the bright, tidy kitchen. Keiko had been the one to suggest that Yusuke wait until Kurama came to visit his mother before going to confront the fox, rather than take the trip to visit him at school.
As usual, Keiko had been right. Choosing to talk to Kurama in a place the redhead felt safe in was what was going to get Yusuke everything he wanted.
A smug smile tugged at his lips, and Yusuke rose in an attempt to hide it. He moved to the fridge to examine the photographs taped to its shiny face. Kurama's high school graduation. Shuichi's science fair. Hanataka's company picnic. In all of the pictures, Kurama looked happy, normal. Human.
But even in the pictures, his eyes held the same distance Yusuke now saw in person.
"You know that I've abandoned that part of my life forever, Yusuke." Kurama sighed quietly from behind him.
Yusuke's eyes drifted to the cabinets, to the large red and white checkered cookie jar. Instinctively, he knew that if he looked inside it he would find a fresh batch. This was the kind of life Kurama had now. The kind of life he fought so hard to maintain.
"No one's saying you should transform into Youko," Yusuke answered, turning back to him with a grin. Kurama looked tired, stressed, and pale. "But the demon in you is bored. It's suffering in suburbia! You know it's gotten bad if I've noticed it! A little rough-housing would be good for you! Come out and play!"
Kurama smiled slightly, and Yusuke rejoiced in his victory.
"If I were to go," Kurama warned, "You know it would only be for this one time. You know it wouldn't mean that I was prepared to work for spirit world again. Right?"
"Of course!" Yusuke agreed quickly. "But you do need this, man…if only to get it out of your system. One last adventure. What do ya say?"
Kurama opened his mouth to answer, then quickly closed it. He glanced at the door.
A moment later, Yusuke heard the jangle of keys.
Kurama was on his feet and at the door in an instant, helping his mother with her mountains of grocery bags.
"I didn't know you were having company, Shuichi," Shiroi said, smiling at Yusuke by way of greeting. Yusuke had met her a few times, but Kurama had never made it a practice to bring his friends home – too much risk of something slipping out. He didn't trust their acting skills, and none of them blamed him. "Are you staying for dinner?"
"Yusuke was actually just about to leave." Kurama lied smoothly, unflinchingly.
"What a shame! We're having chicken for dinner."
"You're having dinner with Keiko tonight, are you not?" Kurama reminded him.
Yusuke blinked. Had he told the fox that?
"That reminds me, Schuichi! We have that meeting with the matchmaker tomorrow. Don't forget."
Matchmaker? Yusuke mouthed as Shiori turned her back on them to put away her groceries.
Kurama gave him a warning look. His hand came down on his shoulder, bunching in the cloth of his jacket.
"Come, Yusuke," the redhead said brightly. "I'll walk you out." Using his hold on his jacket, Kurama literally forced Yusuke to his feet. He managed to shuffle the other boy outside before Shiori could turn around. He closed the door quickly behind them.
"Geez. Anal much?"
"My apologies, Yusuke," Kurama stated quite insincerely, reaching out to smooth the wrinkles his manhandling had caused in Yusuke's jacket.
Yusuke grinned and squinted playfully at him.
"Matchmaker?" he asked again.
Kurama paused, then sighed.
"Mother is becoming impatient for grandchildren, though she would never say so in so many words. It's normal for someone in my position to be thinking about marriage, and I will be graduating early this Fall. So I've asked her to help me find someone. A little old fashioned, but…" he trailed off, caught under Yusuke's stare. "What?"
"I never even thought you liked women!"
"Well, come on!"
Kurama looked away. "You're right, Yusuke. I don't. However, it matters less than nothing. It is simply the next step I must take in the maintenance of this human façade."
"You're kind of sick, man. Don't you think that's taking it a bit far?"
"Nevertheless," gracefully, Kurama motioned for Yusuke to leave..
"You gonna come to the tournament?" Yusuke pressed.
"Yes," the redhead agreed reluctantly. "Yes, I will go. Will you leave me alone now?"
Unable to stop herself, she wrapped her arms tightly around his slim form and hugged him close. There was a moment's hesitation, then his arms closed around her to return the hug.
"What was that for?" he asked when she pulled away.
Shiori beamed up at her son, filled with pride at the sight of him. Responsible, caring, beautiful – he was everything a mother could ever hope for.
Sometimes he seemed almost too good to be true. It seemed that the very moment she began to feel concerned for his future, he asked her to find a matchmaker. And what luck that he had chosen the very kind of girl she had wanted for him!
"Nothing," she answered. "I just love you."
Schuichi smiled and planted a gentle kiss on her forehead.
"I love you, too. Goodnight, mother."
He began to walk down the hall to his old bedroom, then paused. Hesitated.
"There's a school holiday coming up in the next few weeks," he said at last, turning back to her. "Some friends invited me to join them. Would you mind…?"
"Thank you for asking, Schuichi, but you're really too old to ask for permission."
"Yes, I know, but…"
"Go. Have fun."
A slight smile. A small nod. Schuichi disappeared into his bedroom.
Shiori smiled, filled with warmth that her son still liked to come and visit her. So many of her friends had trouble with their children.
Short introductory piece. Hope you all liked it nontheless. Response would be more than appreciated.