Okay, so, this didn't come out as well or as long as I had hoped. I didn't have that much time to write it this year, due to working scheduled 35+ hour weeks (I usually come in early and stay late as well), and it certainly ended abruptly. Not only was there barely enough time to finish it, I also got almost zero editing and proofreading done, so there are probably some mistakes and definitely a lot of things that could have been written better. Reimu's personality certainly didn't come off as I had intended it to. And to add onto that awkwardness, this is my first time writing in first-person perspective, as well as present-tense. So that was new.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy. This takes place a year after the Christmas story I wrote last year, but you really don't need to know anything about that one to read this one. Though some parts may certainly make better sense if you have.
Oh, and for the record, there's some heavy ReimuxYukari shipping near the end. So if that's not your thing, you may want to avoid it.
Outside the Hakurei Shrine
"Eh? You want to do it here, Reimu?" Sanae Kochiya asks me.
I nod. "It's important for the Hakurei Shrine to maintain its image as the centerpiece of Gensokyo." I'd have been more accurate to say "reclaim" instead of "maintain", but I'm not about to admit that.
"The image that it hasn't had for your entire tenure as the Hakurei shrine maiden," Marisa Kirisame snarks as if she can read my mind.
"So while it was fine at your place last year," I begin while ignoring Marisa's spot-on assessment, "I'd like to be the one hosting the holiday party this year. Plus, I guarantee most people will appreciate not having to trek up that huge mountain to get to the party."
"R-right... I'm so used to walking up and down the mountain that I don't even give it much thought anymore..." Sanae says while scratching her head. "Hm... well, we got most of the supplies and decorations, but we haven't actually set anything up... so I guess it'd be possible to relocate. And we haven't actually told anyone that we're holding the party again this year. In fact, we were gonna hold it on Christmas Eve this year, instead of Christmas."
"But if you were to hold it here, wouldn't it just attract a whole bunch of youkai and no humans?" Marisa asks.
"I don't know if you paid attention last year, but aside from us, there were... three, maybe four other humans there," I sigh.
"Whaddaya mean? There was Alice-"
Marisa hesitates for a moment. "...Oh, right. A-anyway, Keine was-"
"Even Remilia doesn't call her human."
Marisa hangs her head down, defeated. I take note of another victory in my mind, adding to my substantial lead over her.
"So are we done with this little guessing game? I'm starting to get bored."
Marisa sighed. "I guess."
"Alright, I'll talk to Lady Kanako about it," Sanae nods.
"Marisa, can you go with her?" I ask. "Kanako seems to like you, so she may be more open to the idea if you're there."
"Eh?" Marisa glances toward Sanae. "I don't know about what she thinks of me, but if you think it'll help..."
"Alright, let's get going, then," Sanae says. "See ya, Reimu."
I wave to Sanae and Marisa as they leave. "Haah..." As soon as they're gone, I steady myself on the shrine's torii and slowly lower myself onto the ground. "This is getting worse..." Reaching my arm up, I rub the base of my neck. For the last few days, a slight discomfort in my throat has been steadily worsening, and now my throat is burning whenever I'm not drinking something. Between that, and an occasional runny nose with intermittent coughing and sneezing fits, I'd self-diagnosed myself yesterday with a particularly nasty cold.
"Wow, you look bad," a voice comes from behind me
I don't need to turn around to identify who that annoying voice belongs to. "Your insults are weak today, Mima."
The evil spirit takes another step toward me. "That wasn't an insult. You really look... off. Are you feeling okay?"
Hiding my pain, I smile and turn around to face Mima. "Nope, I'm fine. See?"
Mima leans toward me, putting our faces mere centimeters away from each other. "You're a terrible liar. And besides, you never smile when I'm around."
Dammit. I should have caught that. "Really, though, it's none of your business."
"If you insist," Mima sighs. "But if I were human, I'd go lie down for a while. Illnesses can really do a number on you things."
Charming. I'm keen on arguing with her while I feel like this. "If that's all, I have things to do, so I don't exactly have time to shoo you away this time. Can you see yourself away from the shrine for once?"
Mima lowers her head. "Fine, fine, I get it. Just get some rest," she says as she leaps into the air and flies off without another word.
*cough cough* Tch. As much as I hate agreeing with her, perhaps a small rest will do me good.
I slowly walk back into the shrine, and lie down on my bed without so much as removing my ascot. Almost immediately after my head hits the cushion, I fall into a deep sleep.
Knock knock knock.
...Shut up. Go away.
Knock knock knock knock knock knock knock.
"Gah, fine! I get it! I'm coming, hold your horses!" Groggily rising to my feet, I stumble toward the front door and slide it open. Standing outside are two women; one in a black and red dress with long braided silver hair, Eirin Yagokoro. The other, given away by her rabbit ears as Reisen Udongein Inaba, is wearing a sharp black suit, with a white shirt and red tie underneath. I notice the suit's tightness around her chest and hips, indicating that it was clearly cut for a man, and make a mental note to tease her about it later.
"House call, Reimu," Eirin says before I can ask what she's doing here, then walks into my shrine without so much as an invitation. The rabbit slowly shuffles in after her, dragging a large suitcase.
"Eirin. To what do I owe the inconvenience?"
Eirin brushes her bangs out of her eyes. "An anonymous customer wanted me to check up on you. They said you're really sick."
Anonymous? Who could that be? After all, the only person who noticed that I'm not feeling good is- "...Mima."
Eirin holds her hand up. "I am not at liberty to divulge my client's name. Udonge, get me the tongue depressor."
Dammit. Even when Mima does something nice for me, she annoys me.
Reisen rummages through the large suitcase and pulls out a small chunk of round wood, then hands it to Eirin.
"Open your mouth and say 'aah'," Eirin says, placing the tongue depressor near my mouth.
I turn my head slightly to the side. "...You're not gonna take 'no' for an answer, are you?"
"Say 'aah'," Eirin repeats, more forcefully this time.
"Bah. Fine, I get it." I open my mouth, and Eirin presses my tongue down and peers inside my throat.
"Very red," Eirin sighs. "I'm not liking the looks of this."
"What's the big deal?" I ask. "It's just a cold. It'll pass."
"Udonge, thermometer," Eirin commands, snapping her fingers repeatedly.
Reisen produces a thin glass rod from the suitcase and holds it near my mouth. I refuse to open for it, and shoot a bemused look at Eirin.
"I can take your temperature one of two ways, Reimu," Eirin says in an annoyed tone, returning my glare. "You can open your mouth and take it normally, or I can forcefully strip you, hold you down, and let Udonge take your temperature. Rectally."
"It's incredibly unpleasant," Reisen warns me. Given the alternative, I slowly open my mouth once more, and Reisen slips it between my lips. "Please don't talk with it in your mouth," she says softly.
Eirin picks up a pad of paper and a pen. "I want you to nod yes or shake your head no for each question I ask you. Remember, no talking. Got it?"
I give an over-exaggerated eye roll, which she seems to have interpreted as a nod.
"Okay then. Have you been feeling tired or sleeping more often recently?"
I glance around, then nod. Considering that it must be past noon already, and I just lied down to take a short nap over 24 hours ago, that's a definite yes.
I shake my head. If this damn thing weren't in my mouth, I'd have responded with 'Only the one you two are giving me.'
"Muscle weakness, aches, and/or pains?"
Yeah, I almost collapsed yesterday. I nod.
"Coughing and chest congestion?"
I nod once more.
"Sneezing and runny nose?"
I begin to nod, but suddenly stop. I can't seem to remember sneezing or needing to blow my nose even once. Reluctantly, I shake my head.
"Okay. Udonge, check her temperature," Eirin commands.
Reisen pulls the thermometer out of my mouth and glances at the mercury inside. "39.7 degrees," she says.
"Quite a cold, huh?" Eirin smirks at me.
"A lot stronger than any of the other ones I've had," I reply.
Eirin sighs. "No, see, that was sarcasm. You don't have a cold, you have the flu."
I'm stunned into speechlessness for a moment. "The flu?"
"Yeah, and it's a particularly nasty one this year. How long have you had it for?"
I think for a second. "Almost a week now, I guess."
Eirin stares into my eyes, unblinking. "Incredible. I've seen humans knocked flat on their asses by this thing. With how casually you've been treating it, it's a miracle you're still functioning at all."
Against my better judgment, I finally start to worry. "So... how dangerous is this thing?" I ask, hiding the anxiety in my voice.
"Not very," Eirin reassures me. "I've seen a lot of people taken out of commission by it, but no one's died yet. However, as you can no doubt tell, it's incredibly painful. Painful, uncomfortable, and..." She trails off.
"Persistent. I brought a few humans into Eientei the other day to keep watch over them, and they said they've had it since mid November."
Reisen reaches back into her suitcase and pulls a small bottle out, then hands it to me, along with a cup of water. An assortment of pills clack around inside the bottle.
"Take one of these a day," Eirin says. "It'll reduce your fever, return your appetite, and hopefully relieve some of your pain."
Without hesitation, I snap open the bottle and toss back one of the pills, chasing it down with the water.
"They're also a prototype for my newest drug, which I'm hoping will revitalize egg production and increase sexual arousal in women who have already gone through menopause," Eirin says after she confirms that I've swallowed the pill. "I need to see if it has any effects on younger women, though, so let me know if you feel any friskier than usual, okay?"
"…" I can feel my face turning red from the combined embarrassment and seething anger.
Noticing my flushed face, Eirin folds her arms across her chest. "Oh dear, is it already happening?"
"OUT! GET OUT!" I grab the cup of water and chuck it at Eirin's head.
"H-hey!" Eirin barely ducks in time. "Not so rough!"
"Out, I said! And take that damn crossdressing rabbit with you, too!"
"C-crossdressing?!" Reisen covers her mouth with her hand in surprise.
"Jeez, you're welcome," Eirin says. She grabs Reisen with one hand and their suitcase with the other, then quickly darts out the door while I grope around for something else to throw.
Outside the Hakurei Shrine
"But really, you couldn't have expected her to react much differently," Reisen says to Eirin as they walk away from the shrine.
"Well forgive me for assuming her illness would dull her throwing arm," Eirin snaps.
"So I take it she's in decent enough shape, then?" Mima appears from behind a nearby tree, having been eavesdropping on the other two.
"Well it's damn near a miracle that she's still able to move around," Eirin sighs. "I'm not sure if it's her Hakurei blood, her divine power, or just her own damn stubbornness that's keeping the illness at bay, but she's doing as well as she can, considering."
Mima exhales a sigh of relief. "That's good... so, how much do I owe you?"
Eirin shakes her head. "Nothing."
"We were paid by someone else to check on Reimu before you asked us," Reisen says.
Mima blinked. "Eh? Who was it?"
"That's classified," Reisen says.
"Yeah..." Eirin glances back toward the shrine. "...That girl means the world to a lot of people..." She chuckles lightly. "I'm a bit jealous, myself."
I wake up to the sound of something. Something out-of-place.
...Dammit, is Eirin back? Go away, I'm not interested in testing your crazy hormone medicine.
...Eh? No, that's... not the door...
I begin to sit up.
"Gah...!" As soon as I lift myself up, pain shoots throughout my body.
...I see. That pounding noise... is my heartbeat.
I quickly reach out next to my bed, grabbing the small bottle of medicine that Eirin had given to me a few days ago. Due to the... 'side effects,' I had decided to go without them. But the current pain is so intense, I'm willing to put up with anything to feel better.
I open the bottle and shake out one pill. As I open my mouth to swallow it, I'm assaulted by an intense burning sensation in my throat, even worse than the pain in the rest of my body. Ignoring it as best I can, I throw the pill into the back of my throat and force it down.
"Haaah..." As much as I hate to admit it, that woman really is a miracle worker. The pain in my throat begins to subside shortly after swallowing the pill, and the rest of my body begins to relax not long after.
My mind finally clears after a few minutes, and my previously-deafening heartbeat returns to normal. As I glance around, I note that it seems to be incredibly early in the morning, most likely no later than 4 o'clock.
"...Dammit all. I won't get better if I can't even get any sleep." I lie back down, close my eyes, and force myself back to sleep through sheer willpower.
"Here, it's ready." Sanae scoops out some soup into a bowl, then hands it to me.
I wordlessly take the bowl, blow on the soup to cool it a bit, and begin to eat. While chewing my first bite, I shuffle around some of the contents with my spoon. Well, Sanae called it 'soup', but the thick broth and large chunks of vegetables make it seem more like a stew. I can see some potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, mushrooms, and large cuts of chicken, as well as numerous spices and herbs, and even one or two things that, for better or worse, I cannot identify.
"So..." Sanae sits down next to me. "I've spoken to Lady Kanako, and... given the circumstances, we think it's better if we hold the party at our shrine again."
I nod slowly. It's for the best, and I definitely saw it coming, but I can't say I'm not a little disappointed.
Sanae breathes a sigh of relief at my reaction and smiles warmly. "Then... if you're feeling up to it, definitely drop by, okay?"
I nod once more and take another bite. The warm broth soothes my throat as I swallow, providing some much-needed pain relief. Since I started taking Eirin's medicine again, I still have aches and a sore throat, but there hasn't been anything as horrifying as what happened a few nights ago. In addition to the medicine, I start to feel a little more comfortable as I eat Sanae's cooking. "...good..." I mumble, trying to speak without Sanae hearing me.
"...Huh? Did you say something, Reimu?"
"...The soup... it's good. Thank you."
Sanae's face lights up at the praise. "Y-you're welcome!"
Over some somber conversation, I finish the meal Sanae prepared for me, while she gathers the rest of her belongings and prepares to head home.
"I'll come back and check on you in a few days, alright?" Sanae says as she steps outside. "Alice said she'd come by tomorrow to keep you company."
I hang my head down. "You don't have to do this... I'll be alright on my own, really." I appreciate their concern, but I feel a little embarrassed having them check on me like this.
"No buts!" Sanae scolds, pressing one of her fingers against my nose for emphasis. "We all care about you, Reimu. So for once, let us take care of you when you need it most."
I back down sheepishly. "Right... thank you." Dammit, if I weren't feeling so down, I would've argued back. Or maybe I'm just getting too soft with her...
Sanae nods. "The leftover soup is still on the stove. Make sure you eat tonight, okay? You need to keep your strength up."
Sanae throws her arms around me and embraces me in a tight hug.
"S-Sanae, what are you doing?!" I yell, forcing her off of me. "Don't get so close, I don't want to get you sick!"
"I'll be fine," Sanae says. For whatever reason, I find myself believing the empty promise. "Well, then, I'll see you soon."
Sanae walks off, glancing back at me once before descending the steps in front of the shrine.
"...I see." I head back inside the shrine, grab a pen and a small piece of paper, and begin writing. After a couple minutes, I walk back outside. "Hey, Mima!" I call out. Odds are she's hanging around here somewhere, probably watching me.
"Whaaaaaat~?" Sure enough, Mima emerges from a nearby tree, hanging upside-down with her legs wrapped around a branch like a bat. An annoying, blue-green, magical bat.
"Take this," I say, holding out the piece of paper and some money, "and go get me these things at the human village."
Mima stares at me for a moment. "And now why would I do that?"
"If you won't, then just pass it off to Marisa for me. I'd do it myself, but I don't want to leave the shrine right now." I walk back inside before Mima has a chance to respond.
"H-hey, wait! Man, what a pain!"
"So then Louise says to me... hey, Reimu, are you even listening?" Alice folds her arms across her chest.
I give an over-exaggerated yawn. I really was listening to her story, but it was so boring that I'm wondering if she'll stop telling it if she thinks I'm not listening.
"Fine, then, we'll just sit here in silence," Alice huffs. She leans back in her chair and glares at me.
Returning Alice's stare, I take a small sip of the tea she brewed. Silence is fine with me, but I can tell that she's already uncomfortable.
A bead of sweat rolls down Alice's cheek as she forces herself to keep her eyes locked with mine.
I take another sip, slurping the tea so the noise contrasts with the current silence, and narrow my eyes slightly. That does it; Alice finally frowns and lowers her gaze.
"YO~!" A loud voice, followed by the door slamming open.
"Gah!" Alice jumps out of her seat in surprise. I, however, remain perfectly still, solely to creep out Alice even more when she looks at me to see my reaction.
"M-Marisa...!" Alice puts a hand on her chest and closes her eyes as she attempts to regulate her breathing and heart rate. "Why must you always be so loud?"
"I 'unno," Marisa shrugs. As I finally shift my eyes toward Marisa, I notice that she is carrying a rather large bag.
"Marisa, is that...?" I begin to ask.
"Yup. The stuff you put on that list." Marisa plops the bag down next to me.
"Thanks." I take another sip of tea.
"Ooh, whatcha drinkin'?" Marisa asks, bringing her face uncomfortably close to my cup.
"Alice made tea," I reply. "Ask her if there's any left."
Alice looks around frantically. "...Eh? Reimu, I didn't make this... it was here when I came in."
What? No, that's impossible... Alice arrived at the shrine, and I came out of my room a few minutes later... I had assumed that she had made it while waiting for me...
"H-hey, you two are scarin' me here," Marisa laughs nervously. "The tea couldn't have just appeared, right? Which one of you made it?"
I dig through my short-term memory, but everything from today before Alice arrived is a bit of a blur. "I... the flu has been messing with my mind a little bit. I guess I may have prepared some tea, then forgotten about it. ...Ah, in that case, Alice, maybe you shouldn't drink any of it. I don't know if it's hot enough to kill any germs that may have gotten in there..."
"I'll be fine," Alice says. "Youkai are more resistant to viruses than humans are."
"What about me?" Marisa pouts.
"You go ahead," Alice says flatly.
"Yeah, maybe the flu can knock you down a few pegs," I add. "You could stand to be a little quieter."
"Wah... too mean..." Marisa sobs.
"Anyway..." Alice points to the bag Marisa brought for me. "What's in there?"
"Supplies," I reply. "For Christmas Eve."
Alice scratches her head. "Eh? I thought everyone was going to the mountain goddesses' shrine on Christmas Eve."
"They are. But for obvious reasons, I'll be staying here. And I'm expecting someone to show up later."
"Huh? Who do you mean?" Marisa asks.
"Don't worry about it." I wave my hand dismissively.
"Hey, Alice." Marisa nudges Alice with her elbow. "The sun already set, we should get home before the forest gets too dark."
"Ah! Right!" Alice downs the rest of her tea and stands up. "I'll see you later, Reimu."
"Of course. Good-bye."
"See ya, Reimu!" Marisa yells as she and Alice quickly rush out the door.
I finish the rest of my tea as well, and gather our cups. Out of curiosity, I take a closer look at them. "...Yeah. I thought so." These cups have strange, intricate designs etched into their sides... definitely not mine.
I lie down on my bed, wrapped in sheets. It's particularly cold out today, and I'd love to just lay under my blankets like this all day. ...But, I can already tell that someone is going to come by. My intuition is never wrong, and I just know that someone will be knocking on the shrine's door in a minute or two.
Knock knock knock.
...Of course. Whoever it is, they're going to get an earful for dragging me out of my warm bed for this. I slowly roll out of bed and stagger over to the door, then slide it open.
"Merry Christmas, Reimu~!" Said in such a disgustingly cheery and caring voice, I don't even need to look up to know that Byakuren Hijiri is standing at my door.
"Uh... y-yeah... you too..." Dammit. Every urge I had to yell at her faded away when I heard her voice. She's just too nice, there's no way I can take my anger out her.
I step to the side, and Byakuren lets herself into the shrine. "So, how are you feeling?" she asks.
I shrug. "Better, I guess. With any luck, it'll be mostly gone by the end of the week." I wonder how much of my current condition is thanks to my body's immune system, and how much is just Eirin's medicine.
"That's good," Byakuren says. "Oh, here, this is from Mina and myself." She holds out a small bag, adorned in ribbons and glitter. "Merry Christmas!"
"Huh? From Murasa?" I take the bag from Byakuren's hands and peer inside.
"It's nothing much," Byakuren says. "There's some tea blends that are said to boost the human immune system, some candies to soothe your throat while giving you something sweet to eat, and some bath salts to relax your muscles. Oh, and a scarf that I knitted for you. We can't have you getting any sicker, after all!"
I feel my face flush red. "Th-thank you... but you didn't have to do all this for me..." I take the scarf out of the bag and look it over. Despite being handmade, the craftsmanship is incredible. The scarf itself is bright red, with many white and dark red yin-yang symbols sewn along the edges. At the end, rather than long strings of fabric, there are purple butterfly-shaped pieces of fabric sewn to the main part of the scarf, whose wings dangle from the end.
"You know," Byakuren says, looking at the scarf. "It's-"
"Yes, yes, I know what it is," I sigh, putting the scarf back in the bag.
"Anyway, I'm going caroling around the human village with Mina and the others. We'll be sure to come by and sing for you, okay?"
"Of course," I smile. "And thanks for everything, really."
"Aww, you're welcome, Reimu!" A beaming smile crosses Byakuren's face as she waves goodbye and rushes out the door.
"Hm... it's getting a little late..." I mutter to myself. There's still some soup leftover from Sanae's second batch that she brought over earlier today, so I should heat that up for dinner. "Oh, and..." I heat up some water for some extra tea, for when Byakuren's group shows up.
Christmas Eve night. A time for family and friends to get together, exchange gifts, and enjoy each other's company.
"And here I am sitting all alone."
...Well, not completely alone. I never am. Recently I've felt that there's someone always around me, watching me. But she has yet to come out of her hiding place. That's alright, though. I'm working on coaxing her out right now.
I walk back into my kitchen and continue to stir a large pot. Inside is a mixture of beef and vegetables, a stew I put together after getting a little inspiration from Sanae's soup. Sizzling next to it on an iron grate are two large steaks, weighing almost 300 grams apiece. Together with a small bottle of sake, they make up the full inventory of things that I asked Mima to get for me at the village. On that note, I'm still unsure if she got them herself or if she sent Marisa.
"My my, something smells good." A familiar face pokes out of a nearby gap and looks around my kitchen. "Hey, Reimu, are you cooking something?"
"Stew and steaks," I reply.
"Oh, that sounds good." She leans in a little closer. "Should I take mine to go, or eat here?"
I sigh and turn back toward the two place settings I had laid out earlier. "Just sit down, Yukari."
Yukari Yakumo gracefully steps out of the gap and stretches her arms. "Mm... such a nice night. Don't you agree?"
"Bah. I'd say it's way too cold."
"Hm, maybe~," Yukari says in a teasing voice as she walks around to my back. "But..." She throws her arms over my shoulders and embraces me from behind. "Doesn't cold weather just make warm food and close company seem even nicer?"
I take her hands and remove them from my shoulders. "Are you going to have some, or not?"
"Of course," Yukari smiles. "If you're offering, that is. I was expecting you to give it to someone else, like you gave my tea away the other day."
...Wait, what did she just say? "...So it was you..."
Yukari sighs. "Yes, I came to visit and brought two cups of tea with me. And after I went through all that trouble, you just let Alice drink mine." I can sense some fake drama in her voice.
"...I see." Now it's all falling into place. Dammit, I should've pieced this together much earlier. "It was all you, wasn't it?"
Yukari places her hand over her mouth in feigned surprise. "Who? Me?"
"Yes, who else could it have been?" Yukari brewed the tea on the day Alice came to visit. She was the one who was always around, giving me that feeling of being watched. Hell, she was definitely the one who hired Eirin to check on me, and she probably had something to do with the medicine's side-effect as well. Though, thankfully, I have yet to experience any of that.
"Well, I guess you had to figure it out eventually," Yukari giggles. "Though it took you a lot longer than I thought it would."
"Give me a break," I sigh as I pour some stew into a pair of bowls. "This flu is really messing with my head."
Yukari takes the bowl from my hand and spoons some stew into her mouth.
"Well? How is it?"
"Mm, it's very good," Yukari smiles.
I take my own bowl and sit across from Yukari. For the next hour, we talk about mostly mundane, nonsensical things over dinner. Once we finished eating, we found ourselves sitting just outside the shrine's doors staring at the stars, despite the cold temperature.
"So..." Yukari's voice turns somber. "Are you alright?"
I sigh. "Yeah, it's still a little uncomfortable, but it's getting better. I should be back to normal within a week."
Yukari shakes her head. "No, that's not what I meant."
"It's just..." Yukari looks down, a sad frown on her face. "Everyone's up at the Moriya Shrine having fun right now, and you're stuck here."
"Oh, that. Hm... well, I can't say I'm not disappointed, but..." I put one of my hands on top of Yukari's. "As long as you're here... there's nowhere I'd rather be."
Yukari closes her eyes and smiles. "Yeah..." She reaches around my back and grabs one of my arms, then lightly pulls until my head rests on her shoulder. "Same here."
The instant my head touches her shoulder, my eyes close. All the pain I feel from my sickness fades as I lose myself in the moment, and every pain and hardship I've endured up until this point seems to have all been worth it. At least, that's the last thought I have before I drift away into sleep next to Yukari.