Yukina celebrates her birthday in her own way, and Shizuru gives Hiei a piece of her mind.
The flames flickered gently, reflecting in the two sets of eyes that stood before them. They had been burning for hours, with no sign of stopping. The girls had chosen tall, waxy candles for this evening; ones that would burn from midnight to sunrise. They were bright red, and a perfect match to the flames.
Yukina thought it was interesting, that humans lit candles and incense in remembrance. Remembrance of an anniversary, a birth, a death. Her own people carefully kept their eyes open in the blustery weather of their frozen world, or kept themselves up late, forcing their eyes to water, and to stream crystalline gems down their cheeks. The hirui stones were strung up and hung, sparkling and admired, to be stared at.
It was painful; she remembered when one of the elders' birth anniversary had been celebrated. As the village outcast, she had been chosen to produce her lovely white gems. When her lap was filled with her tears, and her eyes so red the whites could not be distinguished from her irises, she had sat for more hours, boring holes into the tiny stones. She had stabbed her fingers many times, and they bled.
Yukina's hirui stones were painful to acquire, but she supposed the fire was painful, too. But it was infinitely better as a decoration, she thought. No one had to cry to make fire. If she cried enough, perhaps the candles would go out.
A sigh fluttered in her breast, as the candles continued to melt. Wax dripped slowly down the stick, as the wick disappeared.
"Happy birthday to us," she murmured gently.
Her companion had not wavered from her spot behind the ice maiden. Shizuru had told her all about candles and birthday cakes when the two of them plus Botan had planned Kazuma's birthday party. Yukina had thought it a lovely tradition, to burn a candle, to melt away any bad memories of the previous year like wax, and start over fresh from the ashes. Yukina begged Shizuru into promising that on her birthday, they would light candles for her brother, wherever he was.
Yukina always celebrated her brother's birthday alongside her own. She was not quite sure of their relative ages. Some people in the village said her brother was older, and others said they were twins. But every time the day came around, she said a prayer for him, and strung a chain of her tears.
Another wonderful tradition of human birthdays: the honored person was given gifts just for turning another year older. Somehow, her birthday had been discovered, even though she swore Shizuru to secrecy. That day, Kuwabara, Botan, Keiko, Kurama, Yusuke, Shizuru, Genkai, Koenma and Hiei had each presented her with a special token, for no reason other than it being the day she was born. She hadn't told anyone because she didn't want to burden them with spending money on her.
Botan probably overheard them, she figured.
Kazuma had been especially kind. He knew what the girls were up to tonight, and had quietly presented Yukina with a second gift for her brother. It was incredibly sweet of him; not just spending money on someone he didn't know, but also not making a big deal of it.
Shizuru and Yukina also bought gifts for her phantom brother. Shizuru had found a cunning black jacket, with many cleverly hidden pockets. Yukina found it fascinating.
"Stylish and practical," Shizuru had said smugly. "Your brother wouldn't be able to resist."
Yukina had been confused that Shizuru had seemed to pick a gift that would appeal to Hiei. After an inquiry, Shizuru had said smoothly, "The only two demon males I know are Kurama-kun and Hiei-kun. Between the two, Hiei-kun's easier to shop for."
Yukina couldn't argue logic like that.
Hours of staring at the burning candles hurt Yukina's eyes, and she turned away, facing Shizuru. Faithful, calm Shizuru, who had never left her side. Never spoke.
"Forgive me, Shizuru-san, I almost forgot you were there," the little girl said guiltily. The fires were so mesmerizing... Fire had always fascinated her. Her brother, she imagined, must be quite like fire, as a fire demon. She knew she was quite like ice. She could be hard and frozen and emotionless when need be, but she could melt into a refreshing, cooling stream.
Her brother would be quick and warm, with an unpredictable wildness about him.
"I imagine my brother to be quite like Kazuma-san in that regard," she murmured.
Shizuru hacked a cough, which sounded like it could have possibly been a laugh in another life. Yukina frowned; Keiko had told all about how dangerous smoking was, and that she had been trying to get Yusuke and Shizuru to quit. If Shizuru was coughing suddenly, for no reason, perhaps that was best...
"Don't worry about me," Shizuru said hastily, the fire causing a distinct sparkle in her normally dull eyes. "And in what regard would your brother be like mine?"
"I imagine him to be quite warm and fiery, just like Kazuma-san," Yukina explained.
Shizuru smiled softly, and wrapped an arm around the smaller girl. "I'm sure they both have equally stubborn dispositions, and even worse tempers."
Yukina leaned her head against Shizuru's ribcage; as high as she could reach. Her back could still feel the heat of the candles. They made her feel brave; like they could protect her. Fire had always protected her, the other ice maidens feared it like nothing else. Fire and sunshine were death to any ice maiden except Yukina; they were her friends. When the other little girls had frozen her hair and shattered it, she had run away as fast as her tiny legs could carry her. She had come across a small, snowy clearing with a bright campfire burning cheerfully. The little girls had screamed and ran from the bright flames.
It had made her feel welcome; like walking into a loved one's embrace, or a friend's cozy living room.
"What is it, sweetheart?"
"Do you think my brother even knows I exist?"
Shizuru's arm tightened around her shoulders. A one-armed hug was about as affectionate as the big girl got (unless you counted those 'love taps' her brother received). "If he doesn't, you'll just have to find him and prove it."
"What if he doesn't believe me?" the maiden asked. It would break her heart to find her brother at last and be rejected. Her only family... Someone who could give her a warm hug, for no reason other than being there. Yukina imagined Kazuma's hugs to be warm, but he would never touch more than her hand without explicit permission, and she was too shy to just walk up and ask him to please hug her.
"Then I'll beat him up until he does," Shizuru declared. Her voice held enough bravado to let Yukina know that she was definitely a Kuwabara, but an equally soft vibe could still be detected.
Shizuru gently gripped Yukina's shoulders, and spun them both to face the fire again. The candles were almost half-gone now, and a pile of dried wax clung to the makeshift stand the girls had erected. Once morning came, they would have to scrape it off, Yukina noted.
"I know for a fact your brother sees the light these candles give off. I feel it. But maybe you shouldn't imagine his every detail, honey." Shizuru snorted in sudden remembrance, blowing a few loose strands out of her face. "I remember when Mom was expecting Kazu. I imagined this cuddly, tiny little angel with a love for books and nature. Who also happened to be a girl."
"Was he not tiny when he was born?" Yukina asked. Kazuma as a baby... She giggled at the thought of the tallest person she personally knew as a tiny baby, clutching a rattle and dressed in a bonnet. She was amused to see that her mental image's rattle was in the shape of a tiny Rei-ken.
"Nope." A smirk had formed on the big girl's face. "He was tall at birth. He was huge. I was shorter than him by the time he was twelve, and I was fifteen.
"The point is, you should just stop imagining and be ready to accept anything."
"I will accept anything," Yukina protested. "My brother could do nothing to make me not accept him!"
"Maybe he doesn't know that."
Yukina's shoulders slumped. "If he was here, I could tell him."
"What would you tell him?"
"That I love him," Yukina answered honestly. "And that I would like it very much if he could possibly find it in his heart to love someone he does not know."
Shizuru nodded. "Tell him that as soon as you find him," she advised. "Don't give him a chance to flee. Brothers are sneaky devils, they can ditch you without a moment's notice or a glance back."
"Kazuma-san wouldn't do that, would he?" she asked, amazed.
"If he was annoyed enough with me, he might."
Yukina shook her head. "There are so many... idiosyncrasies... to having a brother," she said mournfully. "What if I don't have time to learn them? What if I never learn how to calm him down right or to keep him from harm, like you and Kazuma-san do?"
Shizuru smoothly covered a wince; her track record in that department wasn't as clean as she would prefer. She still held a grudge against Sniper for preventing her from warning everyone that Sensui was after Kuwabara.
"As long as you can match his temper and wit, it'll be okay."
Yukina didn't answer; she just gazed towards the only other source of warmth and light peeking out over the east horizon.
"We had better blow out the candles," Shizuru murmured.
"And clean up the melted wax," Yukina added, forming a sheet of ice in her hand.
When the sun was cheerily gazing at the at the spot where Yukina and Shizuru had stood since midnight, it could not find either female. Yukina had insisted on fixing Shizuru and Genkai each a cup of strong tea, and the other two had been equally firm in telling Yukina to go to bed.
A dark shadow, not caused by the sun or any candles, also could not find the two sisters. He had been watching them since they lit their candles at midnight, and his internal clock told him he had dozed off not three hours later.
Hiei spun carefully, hands instinctively preparing to grip his sword's hilt.
"Relax. I'm just a defenseless little human."
The phantom brother could not suppress a snort. He distinctly remembered Shizuru kicking the collective crap out of several demons and her brother. If she had chosen to channel her power towards weapon formation as Kuwabara had, she would be the strongest female fighter in fifty years.
The 'defenseless' human flipped open her lighter, and clicked the little flame on. She pulled a loose cancer stick, as Keiko occasionally referred to them, out of her pocket and lit up. "So. Were you trying to look through my bra or my panties?" Shizuru asked casually.
Hiei snorted. "Don't flatter yourself, girl."
"You need to chill out," the girl said, smirking like a cat with a mouse in its claws. "It was just an ice-breaker."
Hiei rolled his eyes at the references to Yukina's element. All three of them. "Leave me alone."
Shizuru mimicked his gesture. "You're always so charming," she muttered. "Grow up, get some guts, and tell your sister you return every gentle thought she's ever had of you."
"You heard what I said. I felt you up in that tree on the mountains as soon as you settled in, and I felt you relax into sleep. You missed a rather stirring performance. One I'd rather not have to have an encore of."
"I've made my decision," Hiei responded stubbornly.
"Yeah, I know, and it's yours. She made a wish when we blew out the candles, you know." Shizuru calmly blew out a perfect ring of smoke. "Go on, guess what it was."
"To find her brother?" he suggested dryly.
Shizuru snorted. "Not even close."
Hiei glared at the human; one of an increasing amount of people who could withstand his amazing powers of intimidation. It was unnerving how calm she was. She had watched him kill for lesser offenses.
"Fine, I concede. What was it?"
"Cute and impatient. You're definitely something, honey," the sassy girl said teasingly.
Hiei's cheeks reddened just enough to keep from being as pale as the moon. "Just tell me her wish."
"To have one, and only one, knock-down, drag-out fight with her brother," Shizuru said smugly. "Just for the novelty."
Smirking at Hiei's dumbfounded expression, and popped eyes, Shizuru called a last farewell over her shoulder, and began the journey home.