Keiko and Kuwabara convince Yusuke to spend one night in normal teenage activity with their normal teenage friends... until they meet the familiar old gang at the Yukimura Diner. Yusuke/Keiko, Kuwa...
"Kirishima, you were fantastic!" Natsuko gushed, eyes shining. "That forward had no chance, you were all over the field!"
"You think so?" Kirishima asked lightly, grinning. "Aw, I wasn't that good."
"Yes, you were," Shouko insisted. "You were the best soccer player out there!"
I sort of lagged behind as everyone showered Kirishima with praise. I had also been impressed with his performance on the soccer field, but I didn't feel like saying so.
Besides, I still felt like an outsider. Natsuko and Shouko are Keiko's friends, and Kirishima, Sawamura and Okubo are Kuwabara's. Not mine. The girls still are a little edgy around me, and Kuwabara's gang really only tolerates me because Kuwabara says to, and because I saved Kuwabara's pet cat. They have such a deep respect for the big guy, if he told them to stick their heads in a thin pipe and do the chicken dance on international TV, they probably would.
For awhile, it kinda surprised me that the girls were so cool around Kuwabara's gang, but then again... There was that incident Daisuke Motomoto, and the gang defended them. When Kirishima, Okubo and Sawamura got the crap beaten out of them on their behalf, and then Kuwabara tried to save Keiko, I guess that got them a lot of respect.
Respect I still don't have, and, quite frankly, don't really care for.
Even if Keiko and Kuwabara are my best friends (don't make me admit that again), I really hadn't enjoyed our night out. Our school's soccer finals were tonight, and since Kuwabara's friend was playing, Keiko suggested we all go to watch. It took Keiko and Kuwa a good half-hour to convince me to come, but eventually I gave in. I dunno why, I guess I figured I owe them. Both are always dealing with my supernatural friends, the demons and spirits I inadvertently dragged into their lives. It doesn't seem to bother them; Keiko and Botan are close friends, and Kuwabara certainly didn't object to being introduced to his precious Yukina. And hell, he and his sister are supernatural themselves!
In the same regard, I guess I shouldn't object to spending time with their normal human friends. So, despite the initial reluctance and my naturally argumentative nature, I went. It was no big deal.
Kuwabara kept stealing glances at me, and I know the next time we hang out, he's going to be teasing me for what I put up with for Keiko's sake... but I'll just punch him out until he shuts up, so it's all good.
Keiko was happy, and with all the crap I put her through, I guess that makes my extreme dislike for socializing pretty much a moot point.
I sighed softly as I listened to all the praise Kirishima was getting. Part of me wanted to be like that: social and with lots of friends in school.
But the other part - the big part that really matters - couldn't care less. I do have lots of friends... surprising me more than anyone else. In the span of... not even a year, I went from just Keiko, to Keiko, Botan, Kuwabara, Kurama, Hiei, Koenma, and even Shizuru, Yukina, and Genkai. They're just demons, spirits, and reiki-heavy humans.
I guess Keiko heard my sigh. Or maybe she just sensed something. Say what you like about Keiko having no spiritual abilities, but she does have a super-human ability to know when I'm in trouble, or hurt, or something like that. Botan thinks she has a very weak ESP that's tuned especially to me, something the Warrior of Love and the Romantic Soldier found hilarious. I swear, by the end of the day, they had suggested so many different ideas for romantic dates and cracked so many jokes, I thought I would have to strangle them both with Kurama's hair.
Either way, Keiko trailed a little from the group to meet me half way. Kuwabara glanced back at us, but wisely decided to let us be.
She blinked her big doe-eyes up at me, concern sketched clearly on her gentle face. "Yusuke..."
"What?" I asked.
"What did you do with Puu-chan tonight?" she asked with concern.
I rolled my eyes. Should've known better: it's always about that little...
"Ma's got him tonight. She'll take care of him okay for awhile." I shook my head. "Sometimes I think you and her both like that little bird-thing better than me."
Keiko smirked. "Well, what's not to like?" she asked rhetorically. "He's you, only he doesn't talk back to me or flip my skirt or skip school or smoke..."
"He's a bird. Type-thing. Newsflash: he can't do any of that stuff!"
"All the better!"
She blinked up at me again, the smile from her sarcasm fading slightly away.
"Seriously, Yusuke... you okay?"
Knew it was coming...
"Really?" she prodded. "I know how much you hate crowds and stuff. And I know you're uncomfortable at school, especially when Mr. Iwamoto's always breathing down your back..." She sighed. "And you didn't seem like you were really having any fun."
"I'm fine," I insisted. And I was. It was nothing I couldn't deal with; Kuwabara was there to help me make fun of the opposing team, and Keiko to tease...
She nodded, smiling a little. Her patented 'I-don't-believe-you-but-I-trust-you' smile. She carefully slipped her hand into mine, squeezing it a little. "Thank you for coming, though," Keiko whispered. "It means a lot to me."
"Yeah, yeah," I muttered. "Whatever."
She let go of me, and smoothed her skirt. Which I had not flipped all evening, thank you. Might have taken a peek before school, but that's beside the point.
"Hey," Keiko called up to others. "Why don't we go to my family's restaurant for drinks?" she suggested. "I might be able to get them for free, since you're my friends."
"Sounds good to me," Sawamura said with a nod.
Okubo shrugged. "As long as I relieve the babysitter by ten," he warned. "If she stays overtime, she demands more money."
"Sounds like a real case," Kuwabara said with a frown. "Worse than my sister."
"Well, it's eight-thirty now," Shouko said, glancing at her watch. "Gives you an hour to hang out, and a half to get home. Will that work?"
"It should," Okubo smiled shyly.
Shouko smiled back. "Hey, next time you need a sitter, call me," she offered. "My rates are really cheap, and I certainly won't charge for overtime!"
"Sure! Thanks, I will."
"Problem solved," Kuwabara decided. "Well, then, ladies and gentlemen... and Urameshi, too... onward!"
I 'gently' punched him the back. 'Gently' meaning I didn't snap his spine.
Keiko slapped my shoulder. "No fighting tonight!" she snapped.
"I'll bet," Kuwabara muttered. "You will pay, Urameshi."
I smirked. "Anytime you want, man. We'll find an open field and just let loose."
I say that, and he does, too, but we never really mean it. Whenever we do fight these days, it's just playing. Basic punches and kicks, the same stuff we used back before we realized that like-loathe relationship we had was getting symbiotic and dangerously close to a friendship. Out of respect, I never use my Rei-gun against him, and he never retaliates with his Rei-ken or anything. Or I think it's respect. It just might be the fact that sometimes we both desperately want a normal, basic streetfight, with no bells and whistles. It's been a long time...
We made it to the Yukimuras' restaurant with no hassles. I couldn't help smiling as I stepped in... My ma was a frequent guest here during her pregnancy and my earliest years of life. Keiko's mother treated her like a younger sister, they're pretty close. And since Keiko and I always traded time at our apartments when we were kids, my mom's developed a sort of older-younger sister relationship with Keiko, too. Though which is which is open to debate...
Contrary to popular belief, while my mom is a conk-out drunk, she wasn't abusive. She knew she was a conk-out drunk, and she took steps to prevent herself from putting us in a situation where she might be sloshed enough to hurt me. She's a smart drunk, I guess. Callous, a little cold, but she never hurt me. Maybe she slapped me across the face and bopped me on the head, but Keiko and Botan do it, too. Hell, Keiko's mother spanked me more than my own ma did.
Right now, like I told Keiko, Ma was home with Puu. Probably making him some virgin mini-drink. Ma likes Puu, she thinks he's cutest thing since baby Keiko. (Which she said to deliberately spite me, I know.) She says he's also a great help in her efforts to wrangle cash from the various cops and mafia members she knows. Which goes back to the part about being a smart drunk: stupid drunks can't get money from cops. Yeah, she's irresponsible, but either way...
Kuwabara nudged me out of my thoughts. "Check it out," he said eagerly. "It's Yukina-san!"
I had a moment to think 'huh?' before my friend was bounding over to the booth in the far left corner, singing merrily the joys of "YUKIIIINA-SAAAAAN!"
And sure enough, Yukina responded by looking up with a happy "Kazuma-san!"
She was sitting in between Shizuru and Botan, with Kurama and Hiei across from her. Belatedly, I remembered: Keiko had suggested that all of our friends go to the game, but the others had reminded us of a movie that was starting tonight. The Rose's Scream of the Undead. Kurama and Hiei had been dying to see it since they announced it last summer... yes, I was just as surprised to learn that Hiei was a fan of horror movies. Or movies-in-general, I guess, really. (Hiei also likes Enter the Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, and Dragonball Z, if you were curious.) But then again, he and Kurama have known each other for several years now, and if in all that time, they never saw a movie together, it'd be a pretty sorry friendship, you know?
Either way, Shizuru also likes zombie flicks (she says enough have asked her out), Botan likes ghost stories (she identifies with them, I guess) and Yukina was curious, and besides, they would get a lot of questions if they went to our school game. So they cheerfully skipped.
Keiko smiled at me, also noticing the others. She's a firm supporter of the Kuwabara and Yukina idea, I guess. I've heard her and Botan planning all sorts of romantic getaways for them...
Speaking of Botan, she stood up and madly began waving us over, ponytail bobbing up and down joyfully. "Hi!"
I grinned back to both girls, and made my way over to the table, feeling truly happy for the first time that night. Here were my friends... the people I'd risk my life for, the ones who risked their lives for me... I felt infinitely more comfortable around Hiei's death glares and Botan's happy ramblings than Okubo's quiet deference or Natsuko's school gossip.
Keiko and I got there in good time, Kirishima, Okubo, Sawamura, Natsuko and Shouko trailing behind a little shyly.
Yukina was alternately blinking in confusion and giggling happily as Kuwabara told her about how much he had missed her in the thirty-something hours since they had last seen each other... I grinned like an idiot. I hate to admit it, but it's a great sight to see: big, macho Kuwabara reduced to a gooey, poetry-spouting mess by Yukina's big crimson eyes and squeaky little voice.
Kirishima tapped my shoulder. "Urameshi, question."
"Sure," I said, turning back around.
He discreetly pointed to Yukina. "Who's the girl?" he asked. "If Kuwabara-san has a girlfriend..."
"Well, I wouldn't officially call her his girlfriend, though I'm sure she likes him," I said with a smile. "But remember a couple months ago, you figured Kuwabara had been jilted by a girl?"
"Yeah? That's the girl?"
"Yup. That's Yukina."
She perked up at her name, and smiled a big, happy smile at the sight of us all.
"You must be Kazuma-san's friends!" she exclaimed warmly. "I've heard so much about you all, it's such an honor to finally to meet you in person." She gave the best little bow she could, squished between two other girls.
"Honor's all ours," Sawamura said smoothly, bowing politely. He nudged Okubo, and I had a feeling that pretty soon, I wouldn't be the only guy teasing Kuwabara.
Shizuru smirked, and shoved the two blue-haired girls over. "Keiko-chan, sit," she ordered, adding a quick "Hi, guys," for Kuwabara's gang.
"Hang on," Keiko said, hurrying off. "I need to get some extra chairs..."
I carefully shoved the demonic duo over, and sat down. "So, how was the movie?" I asked, ignoring Hiei's scowl at being disturbed.
"Great," Kurama responded. "The special effects were especially good. I really felt like I was sitting next to a demonic being," he added, smiling charmingly.
Hiei rolled his eyes. "It was okay," he admitted reluctantly.
The fox spirit's smile widened. "He said the same thing about Rush Hour, and now he's begging me to buy the DVD so he can come over and eat my popcorn and watch it repeatedly."
I laughed. "I've got it on VHS," I offered. "If you wanna come watch it, though Kuwabara's got the better VCR..."
Keiko returned with chairs, and the normal people in the group gratefully sat down. Botan was familiar to Kuwabara's gang with her habit of popping up in her Sarayashiki skirt to hang out with me and Kuwabara, and they were cheerfully discussing the high points of the game with Kuwabara, as Yukina listened in earnest.
"Kazuma-san," she began carefully, "Is soccer the game you play?"
"No, my dear. I play baseball," Kuwabara corrected gently.
"Oh, that's right! Forgive me, that's the really important one, right?"
"That's right!" Kuwabara said with a grin. "I'm a pretty important player on the school's team."
"Of course you are!" Yukina smiled. "I have no doubt about that, Shizuru-san told me so."
"She actually said something nice about me?" Kuwabara asked in alarm. "My sister, are you ill?"
"No, afraid not," Shizuru said. "I couldn't lie."
"Anyway, would you like to come watch a game once the season starts?" Kuwabara asked Yukina eagerly.
"Of course I would," Yukina responded, a sunny smile lighting up her pale little face. "I like to watch you compete, you always do your very best."
"She had better go," Hiei muttered under his breath. "No way they can win without her, if Kuwabara is all they have."
Kurama kicked him under the table.
Hiei innocently kicked back.
Before they could start a kicking war (they're both extremely serious guys, but they have this amazing childish streak when they start teasing and playing with each other), I brought up drinks. "Someone go get them," I finished simply.
"I will," Kuwabara volunteered.
"Just tell Mom who's here," Keiko instructed. "All of you come here so often, she knows what you take."
Kuwabara left, as Keiko asked Yukina what she thought of the movie.
"I liked it," she said with a shrug. "It was a little scary, but Botan-san was about as afraid as I was, and she held my hand, so it was okay."
"You needed to hold Yukina's hand?" I asked my assistant with a grin. "What, could you not reach the demonic duo?" I know for a fact that Botan and Shizuru find both of them attractive.
"Shut up, Yusuke, you're being a jerk," the ferry girl snapped back, blushing. I grinned, it was so much fun, teasing her when she couldn't whip out an oar and smack me senseless.
Shizuru snickered. "Actually, she was aiming for Koenma," she told me privately. "You know how she is, she automatically goes or calls to him for protection. But he was busy trying to hang on to Baachan without seeming really obvious."
"Koenma and Baasan went, too?" I asked, interested. Both of them are relative hermits when it comes to socializing with the world beyond their domains.
"Yeah, but they declined going out shopping with us afterwards," Kurama piped up. "I expect they had a cup of tea at the temple and talked about old times before calling it a night."
"Hiei tried to decline, too," Botan commented. "But Yukina-chan convinced him to come with us."
"Hiei? Shopping?" I laughed hysterically at the thought. I could easily imagine Shizuru forcing him to carry all of their bags. "This I must hear."
"It wasn't much," Hiei said moodily.
Shizuru nodded. "Yeah, it was actually a lot more boring than I thought it would be."
"Shame," I said, still perfectly amused with what my imagination provided.
Keiko frowned, touching the sleeve of Yukina's bubblegum pink blouse, matched with a baby blue jumper. "Come to think of it, is this new?" she asked.
Yukina nodded happily. "Genkai-shihan gave me some spending money," she explained. "And Shizuru-san insisted on buying me a few things as gifts."
Keiko nodded. "Well, I was thinking, I have a pair of buckle-up shoes I never wore very much before out-growing upstairs. I think they might fit you, and they would go lovely with this blouse. Do you want them?"
"That would be very kind of you, Keiko-san," Yukina said softly.
"Nonsense," Keiko said. "I have another shirt that would go with your jumper, as well," she added thoughtfully. "I'll have to shorten the sleeves to fit you, though, but that won't be much work..."
"I could do it," Yukina offered cheerfully, as they continued to discuss various fashion ideas.
"I tried to buy Hiei a few outfits, too," Kurama commented airily.
"Yeah, there was this really cute jean overalls outfit," Shizuru said slyly. "Perfectly matched to a jean dress Yukina liked..."
"They would have looked like twins," Kurama finished with a grin. He and Shizuru hold rank as Hiei and Yukina's best friends, respectively, and they take it very seriously.
Hiei huffed and glared. Kurama and Shizuru discreetly 'low-fived' under the table.
I caught Natsuko wince and whisper something to Botan curiously. The spirit girl just laughed it off, and chalked it up to Hiei being antisocial.
Thankfully, Hiei was spared from further comment as Kuwabara returned, balancing a loaded tray of drinks.
"Right, then," he said. "Let's see if I can guess each of you guys by drink..."
"Good luck," Hiei muttered sarcastically, earning himself a glare from all of three of Kuwabara's friends. Apparently he wasn't making a good impression.
Kuwabara scowled briefly, before turning back to his tray. "Okay..." he murmured. "Hm. The vanilla milkshake is for Yukina-san, right?"
"Right!" she said. "Thank you."
Kuwabara grinned. "Well, then that means the hot chocolate must be for Hiei, they're our sugar addicts."
Hiei nodded and was handed his mug.
"All righty... strawberry smoothie for Botan-chan, pink is her favorite color... Keiko-chan likes juice more than anything else... Black coffee for Urameshi, no wonder his growth is as stunted as Hiei's..." I debated splashing my hot drink all over him, but that was just begging for a harsh slap from Keiko. "Raspberry iced tea for Kurama, with extra lemon, man, that's bitter... lemon-lime soda for my dear sister, she's so boring..." Shizuru did splash Kuwabara, by the way. "Lemonade for Natsuko... Limeade for Shouko... Orange soda for Sawamura... Coke for Kirishima... Pepsi for Okubo, no arguments, you guys..."
And Kuwabara was left with the final drink: "Banana smoothie for me, with an extra taste of lemon-lime, courtesy of Sister."
"Anytime," Shizuru smirked.
The talking died down as we drank. Kuwabara and Botan attempted a race to see who could finish a smoothie first, and both ended up with brain freeze, which Yukina discreetly adverted for them. Hiei burned his tongue on his chocolate. Yukina's milkshake was 'too warm.' The Yukimuras' idea of 'extra lemon' wasn't nearly enough for Kurama's bitter tastes. You know, the usual.
It was... nice. The regular people didn't have my friends' problems with the drinks, having ordered plain 'ades and sodas. But it was still fun to watch their reactions to Hiei's colorful cursing, and Yukina's petite frown.
It really was nice. By the end, Okubo was deep in discussion with Kurama about the pros and cons of a single-parent household, Yukina's cute smiles and cheery thank you's had earned her half of Natsuko and Shouko's wardrobes, Shizuru and Hiei were chatting amiably about the realism of The Rose's Scream of the Undead, Botan had beaten Kirishima and Sawamura in three card games...
Keiko smiled at me as she ushered us out the door. I lingered with Keiko and her parents, as the Kuwabaras offered to escort Yukina back to Baasan's, and Kurama headed for the train that would take him back to his neighborhood. Hiei and Botan ducked into the alley way, and abruptly vanished, typical of those two. Okubo jetted off to beat his babysitter's fee increase, but agreeing to walk Shouko home nonetheless. Sawamura insisted he escort Natsuko. Kirishima called a final farewell over his shoulder before taking off towards his building.
Keiko's mother kissed me on the cheek, and her father clapped me on the shoulder, both of them telling me to be a good boy and say hi to Ma for them. They went back inside, reminding me and Keiko not to stay outside too long. They briefly suggested walking me home, but I insisted I could take care of myself.
Big brown eyes shone gently at me in the darkness, smiling. "So. Tonight worked out okay," Keiko said. "We got a nice, normal soccer game, and then a decidedly NOT normal but still nice time with the demons and all of them."
I nodded. "Yeah. It was pretty cool."
She cocked her head curiously. "Did you have fun after all, Yusuke?"
I thought about it for a sec.
"Yeah. I guess so."
She smiled happily, and it was worth it, to see the sun rise on her peachy face. She raised herself up on her tiptoes and gently brushed her lips against my cheek.
I had a moment to think 'huh?' yet again before she spun on her heel, giggling madly, and ran back into the restaurant/house, pausing just long enough to call to me...
"Give Puu-chan that kiss for me! Good night, Yusuke!"
Kuwabara and baseball... eh. He's dressed in a baseball jersey-like outfit before, and the creator commented that his name is a combination of two pro baseball players'. Besides, we've all seen him use Rei-ken as a baseball bat. (Uses it as a pole vault, too, but that's beside the point!) My Japanese teacher also said that the baseball team is the most distinguished in a Japanese school.
Hiei and horror/martial arts movies... can't you see it? Come on. Try really hard.
Find an official picture of Yukina when she's not wearing her blue kimono. All she wears are ruffled pink dresses.
Yes, I firmly believe Keiko likes Puu-chan better Yusuke. But she loves Yusuke more. Confusing, no?
Sawamura is 'Komada' in the English adaptation. I happen to like Sawamura better for no real reason at all.
Natsuko is Keiko's friend with short dark hair and glasses. She's named in the manga. Her blonde friend is not, so I called her Shouko.
Baasan is what Yusuke and Kuwabara call Genkai. Shizuru and Keiko call her Baachan. Kurama, Botan and Yukina call her Genkai-shihan. Kurama and Keiko both have also called her Genkai-san. Koenma is the smart one, he just calls her by name. And Hiei is even smarter-he doesn't bother addressing her at all!