Arranging to take a week off from work was not an easy thing for an adult to do. It might have been simple back when they were children but now that Yusuke and Keiko both had full time jobs they were forced to plan well in advance for their little excursion to Hanging Neck Island. Kuwabara had it slightly easier, working on his own time schedule and Kurama practically ran his step father's company now that he was in the top position. So when Keiko and Yusuke finally managed to get their schedules right it was almost October. The weather had cooled considerably, yet Hanging Neck Island was considerably south, and so the temperature was just right for a nice week with friends.
You couldn't tell any of that to Yukina, however. She was in the darkest of moods.
Keiko, Yusuke, Kuwabara, Kurama, and Yukina all took the bullet train from Sariashiki to Ishigaki. From there, they would take a rickshaw ride through the forrest that had once been home to hungry and villainous demons and finally a boat ride to Hanging Neck Island. The whole way, Yukina did not say a single word despite Keiko attempting several times to start conversation. Keiko had brought multiple bridal magazines and combed them meticulously for new ideas for both their upcoming weddings. Kurama was the only one interested, but he gave merely mild suggestions that Keiko did not particularly agree with. Yusuke and Kuwabara played cards and gossiped about what Jin might be up to with his brilliant new hotel resort. He was hardly the typical business man yet he was clearly doing very well for himself. How had that come about? How had Jin won control of Hanging Neck Island? Yusuke wanted to know it all, and suddenly he found himself lurched into the past when he was fourteen again with flying fists and blood on his cheek. Now he was twenty five... hardly a young hoodlum anymore. Maybe he was missing that part of him he usually had to lock away.
Keiko observed her fiance over the top of her magazine, remembering fondly how he was once an obnoxious teenager with no regards for authority. He'd charmed her then, kissing her eyelids and running amuck without telling her a damn thing in regards to his secret life. Ridiculous nonsense... working for a detective in an after school program- Keiko snorted a little to herself at the lie Botan had fed her. The truth had come out when Keiko had gone to Hanging Neck Island for the first time with Shizuru and Botan... and she remembered in great detail how much it had shaken her.
The screaming throngs of demons, gnashing their overgrown and broken teeth as they howled for blood had made her muscles freeze with fear. A lifetime of schooling had taught her nothing when it came to street smarts or how to wrangle with people three times her size. Frankly Keiko had thought she was hallucinating for the first ten minutes but as soon as she realized demons were real... it all started to make sense.
"I'm gonna get a soda from the bar." Yusuke announced, getting up and squeezing between Kuwabara and Kurama's legs to get out into the hall. "You want anything Keiko?"
"An apple juice would be nice." Keiko smiled when he flashed her a careless grin.
The same careless grin that captivated her heart when they lay tangled together in sweaty sheets... the same careless grin that made her feel light and airy when they were in the middle of a meal rush at his noodle shop.
"I must admit," Kurama chuckled, "With my two best friends getting married I find myself feeling a bit of an old bachelor."
"Yeah but you're so good looking it won't be a problem for you to find a girl." Kuwabara huffed, pulling out a bag of dried figs from his carry on backpack and eating one morosely.
"I'm sure you must have at least had a girlfriend once." Keiko offered, closing her magazine and sneaking out a dried fig from the bag, "Right?"
Kurama chuckled at this, smiling at Keiko as he pulled his massive mane of red hair out from behind him to lay over his shoulder. Keiko knew exactly how it felt to pinch your scalp because of your hair length... her hair now came down almost to her breasts and gave her increasing trouble.
"I've never found myself wanting, to be quite honest." Kurama shrugged. "It was never my plan to stay here permanently in the beginning."
"What about now? Given..." Keiko paused, unsure of how best to speak since Yukina was sitting right across from her staring gloomily out the window, "Everything. We're all... in human world... now."
"Yes. We are." Kurama nodded, understanding what she meant exactly.
For a moment there was a pause as Kurama and Kuwabara shared a glance in Yukina's direction.
"Yukina, how are you feeling?" Kurama asked.
Yukina did not answer, staring out the window as if she had not heard him.
"Yukina." Kuwabara reached out, gently touching her shoulder to get her attention. Yukina jumped, her purse falling out of her lap as she looked around startled. When she saw everyone staring at her, she flushed and immediately picked her purse up from the floor.
"What." Yukina asked the group at large, "What is it?"
"How are you feeling." Kurama repeated, his tone calm as he laced his long fingers together across his knees.
"Tired." Yukina answered, turning away to resume looking out the window.
Kurama looked a little puzzled at the lack of a further explanation, but did not press for more details. Instead, he greeted Yusuke as he returned from the bar with drinks in hand. Beer was passed around, save for an apple juice for Keiko and a tea for Yukina. Yukina took it with silent thanks, and said nothing for the rest of the trip.
With the bullet train over, the group was dropped off at the station where several rickshaw drivers were taking what little passengers remained on the well carved forest path. It was seasonably warm, and Keiko could even take off her jacket which had been necessary back in Sariashiki. Tropical birds filled the treetops, and they cawed at each other crankily as they squabbled over figs. Rickshaws were not particularly wide, but could seat two people if both held their bags in their laps. The problem was that both Kuwabara and Yusuke were rather heavy, and therefore had to sit with their separate spouses in order to keep from killing the poor demon drivers who brazenly carried the rickshaws upon their shoulders. Kurama was left out in the cold, but seemed rather content to sit by himself as if hoping to escape from the constant gabble that came from fiances with weddings to plan. He read a book of poetry, every so often looking out into the forest and snatching a few samples from passing leaves that hung out in the road. No doubt he was stocking up on exotic plants for personal use back home.
The rickshaws were slightly prickly, being made of woven bamboo with rough canvas seats, but there was something quite fun about riding around in a historic cart that Keiko found herself taking delight in. She wondered if demons used rickshaws but doubted it quite highly. She'd seen how fast Kurama could run... and when Hiei had been living his speed had been insurmountable. More like a flitting shadow than anything else. The forest turf changed from thicker mud to slightly sandier, and roots suddenly became apparent on the surface as an abundance of water created a need for thicker holds. The leaves were broad and flat, like elephant ears, and once or twice Keiko thought she saw a small golden tamarind hiding in the trees. When they passed through the other end of the forest and at last arrived onto open air, what awaited them was a sight they had already seen before... Hanging Neck Island, far off in the distance.
Yet it was different in every way.
When Yusuke had been forced into the tournament the area had been filled with the seediest of criminals who'd made the forest a hide out of sorts. Trash had covered the land, and the smell had reminded him of a wet dog. The ship used to take people back and forth was ugly and marred, just like everything else to do with the tournament. All this was changed now: The thugs had been cleared out (no doubt by Jin and his lackeys), the beaches had been cleaned, and with the removal of trash the smell too had gone. Now one could clearly see the white sands, as well as enjoy the lush vegetation without having to worry about broken beer bottles. The ship that Jin must have purchased, was bright and clean. It was a barge, with a massive dock and lowering ramp that allowed whole crowds to walk up at a time, and it had three decks so that a massive amount of passengers could cross the gap to the actual island without having to wait. What was more, with the tickets that Jin had sent in the mail, they did not have to pay the fee to board, and so all of them were able to avoid being nickled and dimed. Excited, Keiko couldn't keep from smiling as she held onto the railing to look over the edge. Just as she'd remembered from so long ago, demons mixed among the throng of humans. Some looked relatively normal save for strange hair or markings upon their skin. Some were downright bizarre with extra appendages, animalistic features, and disproportionate faces. Perhaps it was because Yusuke had been out of the spotlight for so long that people did not immediately run and hide from him like they'd done so long ago... but Keiko was not a fool. She noticed the way demons kept glancing at their group. She could clearly see the way some of the males around Yusuke's age bent their heads together, whispering and nodding in their direction. These were not criminals nor thugs intent on winning a prize or wanting a head for their body count. These were demons with lives and families, demons who did not want trouble when they were so clearly dressed and ready for vacation.
That didn't stop them from gossiping though. They knew who the tall dark man was at Keiko's side... and they knew who Kurama was as well.
"Man it doesn't seem the same without having to beat the crap outta somebody!" Yusuke laughed, "Remember when we crossed the first time? We had to kill a whole ship full of people... man I miss the days."
"Alas, it seems we will have to be content with calm." Kurama smirked.
"Hell no it doesn't!" Yusuke grinned maliciously, pulling out the pamphlet that Keiko had passed around at dinner a month ago, "One of the tourist attractions on the island are both rings! The preliminary ring, and the remains of the championship ring! How about you and I take a private tour and spar like old times?"
"Not without me!" Kuwabara piped up angrily. "I'm going too!"
Keiko was about to speak up when she noticed the expression on Yukina's face. She looked like she was going to vomit or faint.
"Yukina?" Keiko offered, reaching out to brush some of the girl's aqua locks from her face, "Are you sea sick?"
"... I don't want to be here." Yukina spoke up, her voice hardened with grief and anger, "I want to go home."
"What?" Kuwabara looked around, his mock anger vanishing as he rubbed Yukina's back tenderly, "Are you feeling sick, baby?"
"I don't want to be here." Yukina repeated, "This is wrong. This is all wrong." She closed her eyes as if suffering from a migraine, bringing a hand up to her eyes to rub her brow gingerly.
"Why is it all wrong?" Kurama asked, pressing gently as if worried Yukina might explode if he was too forceful. She did not answer.
The ship was close to docking, and it blew its horn to signal warning to its passengers. The sharp blast of noise scared Yukina so bad she let out a little yelp, jumping and trembling as she pressed a hand over her hammering heart.
"Damn that's loud." Yusuke grimaced, looking up to the horns which towered over their heads atop the helm deck. "Figure they could have made that any more obnoxious?"
"I want to go home." Yukina repeated, looking very upset as she pressed her hands over her eyes again.
"Hey..." Kuwabara drew her into his arms, allowing her to hide her face in his chest as he rested his prominent chin atop her head. Keiko rubbed Yukina's back, unsure of what else to do. She gave Yusuke a helpless glance, to which he only shrugged and shouldered Yukina's bags as well as his own.
"Let's get to our room." Yusuke addressed them all, "This has been one hell of a day... I'm thinking we can get room service and order in? No need to go out tonight. We've got a week to check out the restaurants."
"Agreed." Kurama nodded, "A more private setting will do us all good."
Keiko picked up her bags, and Kuwabara was forced to let go of Yukina as the barge finally docked to lower its massive ramp. There was a great surge of activity as all the passengers made their way towards the pier from which they could march up the gentle hill towards the hotel. What had once been a private resort only for the rich had been turned into a public delight, and Yusuke could see even from the barge that there were walking paths through small golf courses and flower gardens. It bemused him to observe demons in cardigans carrying around golf clubs; like a comedy of errors. There was slight pushing, but Keiko managed to grip the back of Yusuke's shirt and the loop of Kurama's belt so that she was not sucked away. Kuwabara of course cut a path like a knife, allowing Yukina to follow in his wake meekly. They crossed the pier and began to mount the large lush hill. Now up close, Yusuke could see that there were more than golf courses; there were also tennis courts and outdoor restaurants. Demons intermingled with one another, their children screaming and playing with great delight at the little vacation. At the top of the hill sat the hotel, just as grand and glorious as before. Now, however, there was an actual air of peace about the place instead of insensitive wealth. Two bellhops at the door opened the glass panels wide, and the group entered in to the massive and cool foyer. The red carpet underfoot was soft and freshly steamed, and on either side in well placed couch areas demons sat with their bags preparing to check out. Up ahead at the marble counter stood several pretty demon women in white uniforms waiting to check people in, and from beyond the counter there lay staircases, elevators, two bars, and long large hallways to lead all throughout the first floor. Yusuke would have spent more time looking at the place, but his eyes were drawn to a familiar red head bent over the marble counter looking at a computer screen with a demoness attendee. In a fine white tuxedo complete with gold watch and chain, Jin looked a far cry from the merciless killer he actually was. Yet as he glanced up and spotted Yusuke grinning from ear to ear, Jin let out such a cry of delight that it stunned several customers into dropping their bags. Jin leapt into the air, soaring right over the marble counter and flying at Yusuke top speed! They crashed into a hug, forcing Kurama and Keiko to both get quickly out of the way before they went down with the ship.
"UrameshiyousonofagunI'vebeenlookinforwardtathismo mentsinceIcalledyourlady!" Jin cried out in his usual lightening speed, forcing Yusuke to do a mini translation in his head before answering.
"Look at you! You're wearing a suit! Who did you kill for it?" Yusuke joked.
"Ayebeenkeepinguptabswitharealswelltailoryououghtt oseewhatheputsmein!" Jin's ears even wiggled with delight, "Butdon'tkeepmewaitingnow, letmehugtheothers!" Jin touched down, embracing Kurama warmly. Kurama laughed gayly, patting Jin upon the back.
"TwasthankstoyouandyertrainingthatIbeengettintopgr adefights! Neverfeltsostronginallmylife!" Jin flexed his muscles, "Whathaveyoubeenuptonowadays?"
"Oh, simply attempting to live a peaceful life." Kurama assured him with a chuckle, "I'm afraid I've been rather boring."
"Andlookatyou!" Jin shook Kuwabara's hand at once, "Ihaven'tseenyousincetheendoftheDarkTournament!"
"Uh... yeah, it's been a long time." Kuwabara had a much harder time understand what Jin said, simply because he couldn't decipher one word from the next when Jin kept flying through and slurring them. "This is a really cool place you've got here, Jin. I'm glad that you've done so well!"
"Ahtisnothing." Jin shrugged with a blush and a grin, "Newpaintnewshrubsandwooweeyougotyerselfamultimill iondollarhotel."
"Well if that's all that it takes I'll quit my ramen stand tonight!" Yusuke joked. Keiko smiled up at him.
"Saynowwhere'sthefourthmanIbeenwaitingtohearhimmak easnarkortwo." Jin asked, pointing from Kurama to Yusuke, "Hieinotafanofsunandsea?"
Everyone fell quiet. Yusuke deflated, frowning and rubbing his eyes wearily.
"what'swiththefacenow?" Jin asked, curious.
Yusuke leaned in, making sure to whisper directly into Jin's ear.
"Hiei's been dead for over a year. That's his sister standing next to Kuwabara with the blue hair. Don't say anything, she's in a real bad place about it. I'll tell you everything later."
Jin's mouth dropped with surprise, forming a perfect silent 'o' as he looked from Yusuke to Yukina.
"Let'snotbewaistintimewithwhocomeswhenandwholikesw hat!" Jin picked up at once, "You'llbestayininthepenthousesuitthisweek! Allmealsonthehotel!"
"Now that's more like it!" Yusuke cried out merrily, attempting to force everyone back into a good mood, "I'll take lobster and steak on the double.'
"I'llgetyourkeystotheroom!" Jin leapt up into the air, flying right back to the marble counter in order to harrass the attendee. In the moment he was gone, Kurama, Kuwabara, and Yusuke all leaned in to one another while Keiko attempted to boost Yukina's spirits with talk over the spa.
"Let's hope that's a one time incident." Yusuke growled, "Yukina can't deal with that every other minute. God forbid we run into everyone else and they start yammering the same way."
"Take heart, Hiei was not well known to people outside our clan. Only Mukuro knew him better, and she hasn't been heard of since the day we left demon world." Kurama assured Yusuke, "Jin will not bring it up again. They weren't exactly friends."
"Well Hiei wasn't exactly friends with anybody." Kuwabara added darkly. Kurama nodded bitterly, for as much as he hated to admit it this was quite true.
"Hereweareandherewego!" Jin cried out, returning with a fist full of keys that he gave to each member of the group quick as a flash. "Whydon'twetaketheelevatorup!She'sfifteenstorieshi gh!"
"Anything you say, man." Kuwabara grinned, flashing the key, "You're the one paying for all this."
"Apleasure!" Jin assured him, and so all six of them made their way to the elevator. If there was one thing to be said about Jin it was that he was incredibly impatient, and he hammered the elevator button several times before finally letting up. Everyone watched the gold lever drop from floor to floor, signaling the elevator was on its way.
"Ayehurryupnow!" Jin groaned, "Idon'tpaywhatIpaytohaveyoulagabout!"
"It's a machine." Kurama smiled, "It will come when it comes."
"Icouldflyusupatthisrate!" Jin cried, turning about to grab Keiko in his arms and sweep her off the ground. Keiko let out a tiny scream, now floating several feet in the air along with Jin. Her bags fell to the ground as she let them go with a shock!
"I'lltakeyoufirst!" Jin grinned, starting to go higher as Yusuke began laughing hysterically.
"No, no please!" Keiko hurried him, "That's very nice and all but I don't like this, I'm not used to this, oh please!" she begged, and was very grateful indeed when the elevator dinged to signal it had arrived. Jin let her down at once, and she scooped her bags off the floor with shaking hands as she rushed into the vacant elevator. Yusuke couldn't keep his laughter to himself, pinching the corners of his eyes so that tears wouldn't come out.
Jin was the last one to enter, although they were not left alone as several other demon parties got in to join the large elevator foray. They all pushed the buttons to their floors, with Jin pressing the button 'PS' last. Up they went, stopping every so often so that pair after pair could exit on their appropriate level. Yusuke noted the first level was the spa, and several demon women left on the floor with looks of great excitement on their faces. The next floors were lavish and quiet, clearly for rooms, and so the rest of the demons left with bags in hand. By the time they had made it all the way up to the penthouse suit, Jin looked like he wanted to chew off his own fingers with impatient longing.
The elevator doors opened, and Jin burst out in a gust of air. The others followed in his wake, looking around with great intrigue to see that only a short hallway forward and a pair of large double doors awaited them. Yusuke took the step forward, sliding his key into the brass lock and opening the door to take the first step inside.
"Oh damn!" Yusuke laughed excitedly, gleefully looking about the gorgeous living area as he finally laid eyes upon his prize for picking good friends. "Jin I'm about to visit your hotel a hell of a lot more often!"
"AnytimeyoulikeUrameshi." Jin grinned right back, '"Thisiswherethepreviouswinnersofthedarktournament wouldsleep. SeehowTogurohaditmade?"
"Shit." Yusuke huffed, setting down his bags to pass by the lavish furniture set which was centered around a fine glass coffee table and a large fireplace. "He really did have it good. For a while." Yusuke smirked. The living room was right off of a veranda, which overlooked the ocean and cliffside. It was beautiful, colored in bright flowers and clustered with tiny flocks of birds that contented themselves from flying for the moment. Jin went right over and flung the doors open so that the sea breeze could fill the room blowing the white Gaussian curtains about.
"Wow!" Kuwabara was gleeful, like a child in a candy store, "I've never seen anything like this!" Yet this was hardly true, for Kuwabara had seen many fine things in his lifetime. It was simply the fact that he was so warmly invited, so allowed in such a private and richly laid out place that he felt suddenly heightened as if a prince.
"I'm very impressed." Kurama agreed.
"Oh this is so wonderful." Keiko sighed, for she hadn't had a vacation in so long her bones were practically aching for time off. It was difficult to say what she might do first, though she was certain a trip to the spa would be near the top.
Yukina said nothing, scooting around everyone else and heading off down the hallway where only three rooms lay.
"Ayethat'llbethebathroom,andthosearethebedrooms. Weonlyhadtwo!" Jin added hastily to Kurama, who simply shrugged.
"I will happily sleep on such a lavish couch." Kurama assured Jin. "I dare say I have slept in far less wholesome places."
"AhKuramayou'reagoodun." Jin smiled, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'mfixintoaddafewmoreroomsuphere, Iwanteveryonetohaveaplacetosleep!"
During this entire exchange, Yukina opened the door to one of the master suits. Entering, she shut the door at once so that they were all left in a rather uncomfortable silence.
There was no point in attempting to make Yukina enjoy herself if she was going to fight and struggle the whole way. Kuwabara knew this and so instead had to content himself with making their time at the resort as peaceful as possible. Yukina was lost to him at times, afloat on a sea with no bottom in blackest waters that swarmed with dark thoughts he couldn't relieve her of. It was highly possible that she needed to speak to a therapist, or someone who could at least ease the pressure from her shoulders. Yet had Yukina refused all these things in the past, and it seemed even the subject of speaking to someone about Hiei made her angry for days at a time. Kuwabara couldn't keep going on in such a way, walking on egg shells and hoping that he made her happy. He missed her charming smile and the way the sounds of birds had delighted her. He longed to see her laugh at a joke, or just crack the tiniest of smiles. Something to assure him that she could be moved... that she could learn to live without her brother.
The others went to dinner without Kuwabara or Yukina, unable to make her leave her room in time for their reservations. It was fine enough with Kuwabara, who had ate most of his life out of fridge and for whom room service was just as good as a dine out experience. So with cheeseburger in hand and a beer to boot, he found himself upon the veranda overlooking the sea shore in a most melancholy mood. He'd ordered freshly made chips as well as a pickle, and was delighted to find that it was a large pickle (not some half-ass wimp pickle that some of the restaurants would give out) that complemented his meal. His greasy hands were slightly problematic though, and he had to wipe them on his khaki shorts since he was already out of napkins. They'd delivered on pickles, but they'd fallen short on napkins. It didn't matter. He was happy with a big pickle.
A presence in the back of Kuwabara's mind warned him that someone was watching him. He was unsurprised by this, but he was slightly irritated when he heard the flick of a bik lighter and began to smell cigarette smoke.
"Dude, quit it." Kuwabara chuckled, looking around to find Yusuke Urameshi smiling in the doorway of the veranda with a telltale cigarette in hand and a fancy green jacket over his shoulder. It seemed that Keiko had done some shopping for him before they'd come. Still, Yusuke had managed to sneak a pack of cigarettes in somehow; he sauntered onto the veranda to take a seat beside Kuwabara on the cheap plastic furniture that had been installed to endure beach weather. He looked thoroughly exhausted, not to mention a size bigger in the waist. Clearly dinner had been good.
"The smell of your burger is going to make me puke. I ate way too much." He groaned at this. Kuwabara couldn't help but smile even as Yusuke took another drag of his cigarette.
"Was it good?"
"Hell yeah it was good!" Yusuke laughed. "It was damn delicious. As if Jin would give us anything less. If we're going to eat like this for the rest of the time here, I swear man... I'm going to have to get bigger pants. You eat good?"
"Oh yeah." Kuwabara nodded, finishing off the last of his chips with a crunch and tossing the wrapper into his delivery bag which he crumpled under his chair. "Big pickle and all that."
"Good. I was wondering what you would do for dinner... she come out yet?"
"Nope." Kuwabara shook his head.
Yusuke took this moment to reach into his shirt pocket to withdraw his pack, from which he bummed another cigarette. He lit it with the end of his own, passing it to Kuwabara who took it feeling only a little guilty.
"Listen... I've been meaning to talk to you about something for a while now and..." Yusuke broke off at this, slightly unsure with how to continue.
"And?" Kuwabara took a drag, rolling his wrist as a gesture.
"Your senses, they're still pretty sharp, right?"
"Sharp as the day I honed 'em.'" Kuwabara nodded proudly at this.
"Have you noticed anything unusual?"
Kuwabara frowned, looking at Yusuke. Yusuke's brown eyes, which had once been large and youthful were now shrewd and narrow, but still warm... so very warm. They were locked on Kuwabara's face, waiting to spot a reaction no matter how tiny. What was Yusuke thinking about?
"Demon in the neighborhood?" Kuwabara asked, "Something we need to take care of?"
"No, no, nothing like that." Yusuke shook his head, looking away for a moment to purse his lips. "I just... it's just..."
No words came for a while.
"Lately I've been feeling like.. somethings... off." Yusuke finally finished, feeling rather lame at this. "Off in a way that I need to take notice of. You know?"
"No. Well-" Kuwabara reproached, suddenly seized with the memories of the times in the past when he'd felt the same.
It had been so strange, now that he'd come to think of it.
"A couple of months ago it rained like hell, you remember?"
Yusuke took another drag of his cigarette before continuing.
"Right, well I... I just felt something in the air. Something like... someone wanted me to take notice. Like someone wanted me to hear them. But I couldn't because I wasn't listening hard enough." Yusuke shook his head, "It's so weird because I'd always been able to pick up on that shit, easy you know? That was my job! That was our job... for years." Yusuke paused again. "But I couldn't. I couldn't figure it out."
"She's so... stuck." It was the only word that fit in Kuwabara's mind. Yusuke looked at him, true worry on his face as Kuwabara's own crumpled momentarily. "When we ran from that castle, and he didn't follow... it's like she... like she got stuck there too. Like I ran out with a different Yukina."
Kuwabara shook his head.
"Gotta admit she's changed a bit." Yusuke agreed, "But is it permanent or is it just a phase. That's the real question. I mean-" at this he turned to his old friend, "If it is permanent do you still want to marry her?"
This brought about a great emotion in Kuwabara, full of self loathing and confusion. It was difficult to say what his answer would be. Kuwabara loved Yukina- had loved her from the moment he first laid eyes on her through a t.v. screen- but Yukina simply wasn't herself anymore. She was someone different, someone that Kuwabara could not understand nor consol. He didn't blame her or judge her; losing a twin was a horrific thing to undergo. Yukina had taken the loss like a cannonball through the gut, losing something special about herself that seemed almost essential for life to exist in their relationship...
"Sorry I shouldn't have brought that shit up." Yusuke consoled him, putting out his cigarette and tossing it over the edge of the veranda so that it fell endlessly into the dark. "It's just she's been so reclusive, I figured it might be affecting you. You remember what she said in the first place... y'know back when we returned her to the Hokaido range the very first time? After she'd been kidnapped?"
"Yeah." Kuwabara sighed heavily, that old morose feeling back upon him once more. "It's just- it's not that I don't feel bad that Hiei's gone. I do! I just... don't feel as bad as Yukina. He was never here for us. He was never that much of a teammate."
"Take that back." Yusuke disagreed, "He wasn't as open, that's all. But he was there. He fought Sensui right alongside you and Kurama... and that stood for a lot."
"Yeah but that shrimp was such a shit!" Kuwabara scorned, a deep inner anger bursting out of him for just a second. He immediately regretted it, and looked away at once so that Yusuke could not see the burning shame in his eyes. Yusuke, however, was not one to judge.
"I know you two had issues but you gotta remember... he loved Yukina. Hell I think he loved her more than anyone else in the world." Yusuke paused at this, remembering all the times in the past when he had had the chance to speak to Hiei on the subject of his twin, "When we let her go after she'd been kidnapped, I told Hiei that he was passing up on his last chance to let her know the truth. He just said 'I am a rogue and a felon. Even you have had to come after me. Do you think she'd really want to know her long lost brother was a criminal. It's better to watch her at a distance." Yusuke even took the liberty of using a deep sneering voice (the very same he'd taunted Hiei with once upon a time after the death of Sniper). Kuwabara rubbed his face with his hands, exhausted by the topic.
"He loved her." Yusuke repeated, this time making sure Kuwabara was looking at him. "He loved her with his whole damn shriveled black midget heart."
The joke broke the tension between them, and both men laughed at the jab.
"...Yeah..." Kuwabara murmured.
"Question is... do you love her- and don't you get all crazy on me!" Yusuke warned loudly, for Kuwabara turned beet red and looked quite ready to shout at Yusuke for even insinuating that he did not. "I'm not trying to say that you don't love her! Okay? I'm just saying..." But Yusuke couldn't find the proper words, for even the damn suggestion seemed horrid in and of itself. So instead he stopped talking all together.
Neither men were aware of the fact that they were being listened to.
Had they been able to pull themselves out of their conversation, they might have noticed that someone was watching them... listening to every word they said.
Yukina gathered her coat about her shoulders, turning away to retreat to her bedroom once more.
When it came to vacationing Keiko had a system. She scoured her location, found its elements, and then used them to her best interest. The boys were all eager to go scuba diving, with Yusuke insisting that he was going to find a shark and challenge it to a fight just for bragging rights. Kurama was much more sophisticated in his duels, instead betting on rounds of golf and promptly emptying everyone of their pocket change. Keiko, for all her determinations to be self-reliant and refusing pampering wanted nothing more than to go to the spa... and so she did (dragging Yukina along of course)
"Oh this is heaven." Keiko groaned with her face smooshed unattractively into the massage bed next to Yukina who was likewise on her stomach.
Upon their backs, a pair of young demonesses with delicate fingers that sought out each pin point of pressure and stress took great cares to undo every knot that Keiko had bore into her muscles for the past two decades. Yukina was far less knotted, and so instead her own demoness had placed flat black rocks upon her spine that were charmingly warm. Tiny needles dotted their shoulders and necks, tweaked every now and then as the chiropractic twins popped knot after knot in the girls backs. The packed spa was full of heavy groans sounding like a whore house though in fact it was simply a gaggle of women being treated to long over due restorations.
"Why was I so resentful?" Yukina mumbled into her mattress, feeling featherlight as her demoness methodically twisted her needles in an acupuncture therapy.
"You've been having a hard time." Keiko sighed, understanding but more overly relaxed to the point of bonelessness. "I don't blame you for feeling on edge."
"Yusuke asked Kazuma last night if he still loved me." Yukina added, to which Keiko made a deep throaty growl like a bear coming out of hibernation far too early.
"Don't worry about him." Keiko muttered, "I'll give him what he deserves when we get back home."
"Am I so hard to love?"
"No. You're depressed. He's hard to love." Keiko corrected her, "And he's got some damn- ah!-" Keiko broke off momentarily as her demoness pulled her arm so that it cracked at a pressure point. "Some damn nerve when he put me on a goose chase for three years."
"Am I depressed? I think I'm going mad." Yukina didn't sound happy about it, "I keep feeling like someone's watching me when no one's there."
"Maybe it's your demon senses getting confused in human world. It must be difficult adjusting."
"Keiko, I've lived here for years." Yukina assured her, recalling how bizarre it had been to meet Genkai for the first time- to smell a thousand different things at once- "It's not that. I swear someone is watching me."
"Well don't worry. If someone is watching you, Kuwabara will get them." Keiko paused, momentarily lulled into a light slumber as her masseuse began to beat her rhythmically.
Yukina did not have the strength to argue with this feeble logic. She too was being beaten now, and by the end of the entire session she had forgotten the conversation entirely.
After being massaged, Yukina and Keiko were both rubbed all over with a thin layer of sweet smelling soap that cleansed the skin and tingled in the mist of the sauna. For ten minutes they were to rest, their faces massaged while they waited for the soap to crust into a white powder that was to be washed off in the communal shower. The shower was nothing more than a large round room with sprays set every two feet or so around the wall. A large drain in the middle kept water from pooling on the tile, and little wooden pews for sitting were excellent after such an intense session. It was difficult to stand on legs that felt like jelly. The two girls entered and Keiko bathed quickly. Yukina, however, did not rush her experience, feeling quite content in the warm flush as mist concealed her surroundings.
"I'm going to get a foot massage." Keiko announced as she left the shower room. "Do you want me to book you one?"
"No." Yukina shook her head, slickened aqua strands sticking to her neck and face, "I'm going to go back to the room when I'm finished. I need a nap."
"I'm right behind you." Keiko agreed with a chortle, closing the door to the outside quickly so that the steam could not be let out.
Now left alone, Yukina took her time more than ever, using the suds of her soap to coat her pale skin with a pink sheen. She smelt like rose blossoms, and it contented her as she remember how beautiful spring was in Japan. When the cherry blossoms came into bloom, she would travel to the hills to see them and sample sweet ice with Kazuma. It would be nice to have the sun on her face again.
As Yukina turned her back on the room and lifted her face into the spray, she felt a great shift in a current of air behind her as if someone had passed only inches from her skin. She looked around at once, having thought herself alone in the shower until now. It was difficult to see through all the steam.
She turned back around, having found no one there.
Yukina paused in her ministrations after a while, feeling rather uneasy as if someone was watching her from behind. She turned, looking over her shoulder only to see steam rising in thermal columns. Returning to the spray to finish her bathing, Yukina continued to wash herself with the sweet soaps.
There is was again... that feeling.
Yukina stopped bathing, and let her sponge drop from her hand. It fell with a wet plop onto the tiled floor. Her heart was hammering in her chest, hammering so fast that it felt like she would have a heart attack. Her fingers were trembling, turning bright pink with the heat of the water as she looked ever downward to the swirling water at her feet.
Without warning, there came the feeling of a hand upon her shoulder, firm and hard.
Yukina whipped around, too frightened to scream, but her gaze was met with nothing save for steam. The pressure was at once lifted from her shoulder, and she reached around with her opposite hand to touch her skin... testing for sensitivity.
She pulled her hand back, looking at her fingertips as a strange smell hit the air.
Her fingers were coated in blood.
Yukina screamed as loud as she possibly could, screamed so loud that her voice could have had the power to render the entire scene in twain. She screamed for someone to hear her, for someone with sense to come and save her, to come and bring her back some shred of the life she'd once known. She screamed and she screamed, unable to know what any of the signs meant anymore... only wishing that they would stop.
Upon her back, invisible to her own eyes, a bloody hand print lay.