The Cat's Meow

Prologue:
Arrival

Disclaimer: I do not own the anime/manga Yu Yu Hakusho. It and all its respectable characters are © to Yoshihiro Togashi. I also don't own Lauren Mackenzie, she belongs to Arktos, a wonderful writer here, so go give her some lovin' too! The plot, also, is sadly not mine; it is a total parody and spoof off of The Cat Returns by Hiroyuki Morita and Studio Ghibli. I'm borrowing some elements from the movie, but otherwise, everything like the writing, for instance, is definitely the only thing I can claim. Somewhat.

Like stated above, this entire story was a complete spoof, fueled by Arktos, and the own little voices in my head goading me into doing it. This brain baby thusly began to rot and fester in my mind, and of course, poor Lauren is the unfortunate candidate for this story. Poor girl. That's what she's labeled as.

Anyway, enjoy the story! And remember! YES! This is a SPOOF directly playing off of the movie The Cat Returns. So, if you see similarities…then yes, it was intentionally done.

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Today is gonna be a, uh, a less bad day. I can feel it. Sometimes I wake up and I just know that everything is going to be... less bad.
-Ally, "Ally McBeal"

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Lauren stared around the airport, noting that there were very little, if any, English-bearing signs. All she could see were the graceful lines of Japanese, although she did recognize a few symbols. Moving through the crowds of the airport, apologizing briskly if she bumped someone on the way, it didn't take her long to find the baggage claim area. It did, however, take nearly an hour before she spotted her bags long after the carousel began spinning, and she found herself somewhat irritated.

"This will be a great experience, they told me! You'll be fine, they insisted! It'll open up your horizons, they said! Well, I'm certainly facing a different horizon, but so far I'm not convinced this is gonna be some grand adventure if I can't even get my bags…"

There were a lot of people on that plane, she reminded herself. Of course it had taken some time to get her bags. It had been an international flight, a lot larger than a commercial trip. She just had to learn to expect delays like this.

Lauren sighed, and looked over her luggage. I packed so much, she thought. I'll need a…darn, what's it called again. A trolley, I'll need a trolley.

She turned to look around the mostly empty lobby, watching the people still loitering about with mild curiosity. Where was the person she was supposed to meet? Then she saw him. It was a young man, with long, gorgeous red hair and deep green eyes watching her from a distance.

Lauren watched as the young man—slender and tall, around her age—stopped before her and came around the trolley he had brought with him. He smiled at her kindly and gave a short, low bow to her.

"Good afternoon, Mackenzie-san. I hope your flight was not too uncomfortable."

Lauren stared for a moment before she slowly, if hesitantly, bowed back. "I…yes, thank you. It-it was fine. And you must be…Shuiichi Minamino. Or is it Minamino Shuiichi?"

"Either is fine, Mackenzie-san. Or would you prefer Miss Lauren?" He continued to flash that charming, pretty smile of his and she knew her face was getting red. She ducked her gaze and nodded.

"I don't mind either way, Lauren's fine, but…" She frowned a little, before she heard him chuckle.

"You can call me Shuiichi, if that makes you feel any better. Come along; let's get your things out of here. I'm sure you've had a long flight and you'd like to rest."

She nodded, metaphorically wiring her mouth shut and began piling her belongings carefully onto the trolley. She reached for the handles when they were finished, but he gently coaxed her away and began pushing it himself, leaving her staring for a split second before trailing off beside him. She stared around, finding it simpler to look for her answers rather than ask unnecessary questions.

Kind of hard, she reminded herself a little glumly, when you're far from home and can't read the official language…

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"You're very quiet."

Lauren blinked, realizing she had been staring off into space with only slight embarrassment. From what she could see from out her window, they were passing through the city now, and the teenager felt as if she was seeing the compact homes, the rising buildings, and the flashing lights of advertisements for the first time.

Her eyes growing sore from all the staring, she rubbed at them discreetly and winced as her voice came out a little hoarse. "Just tired, I guess. I'm sorry."

He laughed again, and she liked the sound of it. "It's all right, I understand. We're almost there, I promise."

At this prompt, Lauren admitted privately to herself that she was curious about the place she was going to be living in. Would she be in an apartment the size of a closet, or would it be a spacious, roomy home like she was used to? The kind of roomy and spacious home she was used to, at least? I should have asked Monica to go on this trip instead…

"It must be very different here for you, Lauren. I know it was a bit of a shock for me when I was in America for a short while."

She perked up at that. No wonder his English is so good. She looked away from the window and at him—she was still reeling at the reverse driver-passenger seats—in surprise.

"You…went to America?" She asked cautiously, keeping her question short and to the point. No need to be nosy, no need to be rude, or pushy, or inappropriate. She hoped it didn't seem like she was prying, but he didn't seem to take it that way, thankfully. He smiled a little to himself more anything, and nodded.

"Yes, for a small amount of time. I was…with a friend of mine. She's quite a rambunctious young woman, but very kind and helped me out in a time of need."

Lauren watched him for a moment, and then the car fell back into the lapse of silence. She considered this nugget of information and smiled a little, and before she knew it, they were pulling up to an apartment complex; one she noticed it wasn't that different from home. After a long interval of moving and shifting and pushing, they managed to get everything upstairs onto the third floor.

"This is one of the many apartment complexes that's owned by the university, but not on university grounds. It's a co-op complex, so you'll see ample mingling."

"I…I suppose. I…didn't exactly go to a university back home. We had community college." Lauren answered.

He smiled and shrugged. "No matter. My apartment has two rooms, and I did have a roommate the first year, but he moved out not that long ago—,"

"Um…excuse me, I'm really sorry to interrupt, but…we're sharing an apartment?"

He gave her a puzzled stare before he nodded and said, "Yes, I thought you knew. Your parents made the arrangements with the school and arranged them with me. They never told you?"

He tilted his head to the side slightly, and Lauren felt a blush creeping up on her. Oh, great, now you've probably insulted him or something. Way to go, Mackenzie!

She bit her lip and nodded, before replying, "Well…yes, they…explained I'd have a roommate, but…I didn't expect…"

"A male, I presume?" He laughed and she definitely felt the blush creeping past her neck.

"Y-yes..."

"I see. Well, from what I remember, the cultures in North America in general are very different from that of Japan's, but I can understand your discomfort. Unfortunately, the school year is close at hand, I don't believe there are any other available rooms." He paused momentarily, passing a glance over the apartment. It was small, but quaint and had everything a college student needed. "I believe this was one of the last ones available for you, thanks to your parent's tenacity. You can move out later in the year as the students come and go, I hope you won't mind the accommodations until then."

His explanation made sense, and Lauren felt slightly guilty as well that she wasn't well informed enough to know this. She was nervous enough that the man before her had gone out of his way to help her from the airport and her luggage to here and now. Lauren had known about having a roommate, and her arrangements with the university. She just hadn't been aware of the scarcity of apartments, or that her roommate would be anything other than female. Nudging the ground her with foot, she was unsure of what to say for a moment before nodding quietly.

"Well, I…I guess I can wait a while. It shouldn't be so bad," she said at last, unsure of what else there was to say. She lifted her gaze to look around the apartment. It was already nicely furnished, if sparse. Certainly not a place she'd object to staying in.

"Let's get you settled in, then. I'm sure you're tired enough. We'll talk later on, if you wish?"

He motioned to one of the doors behind him and Lauren nodded. Picking up her backpack and a suitcase, she followed him down a short hallway to a small but quaint room already decorated with the basics: a bed, a bookshelf, a desk, and a clothing bureau. Everything else was up to her for decorations, she supposed.

"The college provides for the barest essentials, if that's what you're wondering. My previous roommate had his own sheets, but I replaced them with the original ones when he left. Don't worry, they're clean; they've never been used." He reassured her as he set down her other suitcase. She found the light switch and flipped it on, gaining more of a feel for the room. It was smaller than hers back home, but she could at least begin making it her own for the time being.

Again, he turned those pretty green eyes and charming smile on her, and she felt the blush creeping back again. "T-thank you, for all the help, Shuiichi, I really appreciate it."

Unsure of what else to do, she remembered their first initial greeting, and tried a small bow to him. That's what the Japanese did for greetings and goodbyes, right? Like, aloha was hello and goodbye on Hawaii. Thankfully, he returned the gesture, still smiling, before he left, offering her the advice to sleep and recharge her tired batteries, as it were. Lauren collapsed on her bed finally, legs shaking a little, and she fell asleep right then and there as soon as her head hit the pillow.

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The days passed by, and soon, the weeks. To Lauren's surprise, when she finally took notice of the time and day, a month had gone by. She found herself staring at the clock on her laptop, suddenly reflecting on the past several weeks.

Her first week, she was stiff and unused to the culture she was now thrust into. She tried to be noticed as little as possible, vouching for observation rather than being an ignorant outsider—the Japanese had a word for it, she found out later, gaijin—and being nosy and pushy to learn. She found she learned more by observing, surprisingly, the customs of the people. She didn't see Shuiichi often in her first week, which she found almost comforting; she was still somewhat unsure of how to act around him when he was present.

She found out, not that long after moving in, that Shuiichi had plenty of female admirers. What surprised her—and at the same time, didn't—was that he also had male admirers as well. They were, she came to learn, envious of his looks, obviously, and his intelligence. She was often cast little scowls or dirty looks in the hallways on her way home from school. It unnerved her, and made Lauren shrink into herself a little bit more at the unwelcome feeling.

Thankfully, she didn't interact with Shuiichi all that often, much to her relief and even disappointment. She was curious about him, but at the same time, reluctant to approach her roommate for things bigger than the occasional small question. Even then, she felt a little nervous in approaching him.

When he wasn't at class, he was usually in his room studying. He always seemed to be in a book, working at his homework, even in the first week, and she had to admire his dedication, although she also wondered about his life outside school. Did he have a job? He must, if he paid for the rent and bills to this place. What about friends? Did he manage to balance his time while at school and hanging with them, or did he dedicate his time wholeheartedly to his school and work? What about family?

She sometimes spotted him on the phone, speaking quietly in Japanese and confirming that he talked to someone on a regular basis. And although, she would never admit it, Lauren sometimes stood outside her bedroom door, pausing in leaving or going back inside to listen to him. She liked listening to him talk; he had a nice speaking voice. It was very smooth and cultured, like silk made out of words. Then she would catch herself and rush back into the sanctity of her room, her embarrassment at the prospect of being caught soon melting away when she didn't hear a knock at her door, wondering again who her roommate truly was.

It was that night, when she found herself in the middle of a half-written email to her parents and staring at her computer clock, amazed at the quickly passing month, that she learned a little more about him. Hungry from having only a small and greatly picked at lunch, she picked up the half-finished, cold and stale meal —leftovers, as it were—and left her room. The living room was clear of any life, as was the tiny kitchenette, and she sighed, scraping her food into the trash. What a waste, I didn't even finish. No wonder I'm hungry…

Moving to place her dish in the sink, now scraped clean, she nearly dropped it in fright at a voice behind her. "Not very hungry, I presume?"

Nearly having a metaphorical heart attack from the shock, she hastily stowed the plate into the sink before turning around, fearing she might drop it if she didn't do that first. Shuiichi was there in the open doorway of the kitchen, smiling at her, hair pulled back in a low ponytail. Lauren resisted the urge to put a hand to her chest and feel her heartbeat; it was going so fast she swore it was going to burst from her chest. Quickly gathering her thoughts, Lauren only shook her head at first before assembling a quick reply.

"No, it's just…it got kind of gross, and I don't think the microwave…will help. I might just …make some noodles, I suppose."

"Don't do that, it isn't healthy to live off of them all the time. You eat them more than anything else in the pantry. You can eat anything you like, Lauren. Don't be so scared to pick something out. I can just buy more, you know." He smiled at her in that kindly, charming manner, not knowing what effect it had on her. Or maybe he did, but he didn't seem to care, or wish to embarrass her by pointing it out. Lauren swallowed, feeling her throat drying, wishing she could come up with a suitable response. He pushed himself away from the wall with grace she didn't know anyone—maybe other than an acrobat or a dancer—could have, and moved towards the pantry.

Lauren wisely chose this time to turn and clean the dish, busy herself with something other than looking at him.

"Tell you what, I'll make you something. Not noodles, of course," he added with a chuckle. Lauren felt her vocal chords freeze up as she stared at the dish in her hand, hot water running over it and her hands. She blinked rapidly several times before she bit the inside of her cheek and turned to Shuiichi, dropping the dish in the sink.

"Y-you really don't have to, I'm fine, really," she protested, surprised at how soft her voice was. She tried clearing it a bit, quietly of course.

"Nonsense. I was feeling a bit hungry myself. I don't mind making a little extra," he replied breezily as he moved with practiced ease through the kitchen. She stared dumbly after his movements, trying to think of a comeback, of a reply to dissuade him, but she stayed her tongue, not wanting to offend him. He was going out of his way; it would be rude to tell him not to bother.

So, she quietly stood by and watched him for a while, secretly admiring how he moved with such…well, grace. She rarely saw men walk with that kind of confidence, and she was wondering vaguely if he was even single.

Well, it wouldn't be much of a surprise if he wasn't; all he does is go to school and study at home…Lauren finally caught herself staring for too long, too intently. She hurriedly turned around; promptly reminded that she'd left a dirty dish unattended and the water running. While she worked on scrubbing at the dish furiously, Shuiichi was calmly creating some unknown dish behind her. It smelled delicious, and her mouth watered despite her best efforts.

A tap on her shoulder made her jump, and she craned her neck to see him there, standing at ease while she was having mini-panic attacks inside. Why did he have to be so…distracting? It was going to be the end of her if she didn't do something about it. Like what, she challenged herself. Move out? Great idea, there's no vacancies anywhere, you've checked.

Returning to the present, she found him smiling at her patiently, while she finished gathering her thoughts. "The food is done. And…you've been scrubbing that dish for the past five minutes. I'm sure that it's thoroughly clean now."

She felt her face redden, and there was nothing she could about it except turn away and quickly shut the water off before setting the dish in the dishwasher.

"Um…thank you. Sorry."

"For what? Nothing to apologize for."

"Sor—, er…right." She felt like hitting her head on the counter. Or drowning in the tub at how stupid she was sounding. Really stupid, you dope, she groaned inwardly. It only made her confused, and perhaps a little less chagrined when he laughed off her odd behavior and thankfully did not pursue it. Instead, he motioned towards the small, two-chaired kitchen table and gave off that inviting and warm charm he usually did. Two plates of steaming spiced meats and vegetables were on two plate dishes, glazed in some type of sweet sauce, she could smell it from the counter.

"Something to drink as well, then?" He offered, opening the fridge.

"Uh, yeah, sure. Water, please."

He nodded and pulled out two bottles, handing one to her. In that instant of close contact, Lauren felt her nose tickle. Uh-oh. Don't sneeze, don't sneeze, please don't—

She sneezed. Big time. She was just glad that she had enough sense to duck away just in time. She stared at the ground in horror for several long seconds, holding back the squeak that was her voice right then and there. Slowly, though, she saw an opportunity to gather any shred of credibility to herself and straightened herself up, looking at Shuiichi in the eye.

He had a concerned look on his face, a hand outstretched, but held back at the same time from her. "Are you all right? You aren't sick, are you?"

Great now he'll worry if I'm gonna get him sick, if I am! Maybe…

"No, no, it's…my allergies. Er, you…wouldn't happen to have been around any dogs, have you? They kind of…aggravate them." She answered more sheepishly than she meant. Shuiichi slowly withdrew his hand, a frown creasing his lips and he shook his head, brows knit.

"No…I haven't. Perhaps it was something else…are you sure you're all right? Are there any other allergies I should be aware of, just in case? Food allergies, perhaps?"

At this, he gave a glance to the plates of food behind him.

"N-no, no, no, just…canines in general, actually. There's nothing else, I'll just…get some tea later, it usually helps calm my allergies down."

A look of relief crossed his face when he looked back at Lauren, but she thought she saw something flicker across his eyes, something…wary, although it had passed too quickly for her to properly identify. Then he flashed that smile again, inviting her back to the food, which just smelled oh-so-delicious all over again. She eyed it, her earlier embarrassment almost forgotten by his gentle politeness to curb the subject away from her, and she eventually consented, feeling hunger clawing at her belly like a wild thing.

But, she couldn't help but think of that passing glint in Shuiichi's eyes, something that made her shiver. She didn't know what it was, and she wasn't sure if she wanted to know…

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And thus, the great calamity sets itself into motion. Review please, and if you want, leave me a critique as well; they're both greatly appreciated! 8D