Desert Places


If there was one thing ice demons hated, it was fire. And the sun was one big ball of fire.

Oh, well, Kuwabara Yukina thought as she lifted her face to the golden rays of sunlight spilling so generously from the sky. She hardly saw herself as an ice demon anymore anyway.

A sound drew her attention to her immediate surroundings. She felt as if she was being watched. But whoever it was, she didn’t think it was threatening, so she merely bent down to pick up another piece of laundry to hang on the line.

A few moments passed before the presence finally revealed itself. She turned around, a smile on her face. “Yuusuke-san,” she greeted warmly.

Yuusuke returned her smile, but it did not reach his eyes. Nothing reached his eyes of late, she noticed, save perhaps weariness.

“Yukina.” A pause before he continued. “Is Kuwabara here?”

He knew he wasn’t, but Yukina answered him anyway. “No, Yuusuke-san, he’s at the dojo. Is something wrong?” She had to look up and up to gaze into his brown eyes.

“Ah, no. It’s better that he isn’t here anyway, given the way he feels about me.” He reached up a hand to scratch his head. “Besides, I shouldn’t be here long, or I’m sure I’d go back to find my third of the Makai being divided up neatly between Mukuro and Yomi.” He grinned, then waited as she finished hanging up the laundry.

“Would you like to go into the house, Yuusuke-san?” she asked, picking up the basket.

“Nah, I’d like to stay out here a while, if you don’t mind, Yukina. There’s something about ningen sunlight…” He tilted his face in exactly the same manner she did and closed his eyes.
“I’ll bring you some tea,” she said, and went inside.

He opened his eyes and watched her enter the house. Footsteps caught his attention and he whirled around, sensing a strong reiki. A long-haired woman stood leaning on the fence, regarding him calmly.

“Shizuru,” he said.

“Long time no see, Yuusuke.” Kuwabara Shizuru took out a packet of cigarettes from the pocket of her flannel trousers and lit one nonchalantly. The whitish smoke started curling around her.

“You should come stay in the Makai. That way you can breathe all the poison you want without wasting any money on those things,” Yuusuke observed.

“That’ll take the fun out of it,” Shizuru replied, flicking the ash off the end of the cigarette with a twist of her hand. “The whole point isn’t the smoking, Yuusuke. It’s the lighting up, the feel of holding something in your hands. It’s almost like a ritual.”

“Yeah.” He turned to look at the clothes swaying on the laundry line. “What’re you doing here?”

“Kazuma’s my brother. Yukina’s my sister-in-law. Hotaru and Jun are my niece and nephew. Shouldn’t I be asking you that question?”

A raised eyebrow, a glint in the eye, and Yuusuke felt like socking her right there and then. But then she smiled slightly to take the sting out of her words. Her cigarette had become ash and she flung it away carelessly. Obviously keeping her brother’s front lawn clean was not on her to-do list.

“So what’s wrong?”

“What makes you think anything is wrong?” he countered, wondering if he was on safe ground here. As far as he knew, she couldn’t read minds. Could she?

“Well, for one thing, you’re here. Instead of in the Makai doing whatever it is you Makai lords do.” She held up a hand when he would have protested. “Second, I’m psychic. I know these things.”

“First, I’m here to pay a visit to Yukina and her children, whom I have not seen for ages,” he said evenly, “And second, you’re a shrink, not a psychic.”

A small frown creased her forehead. “Being a psychiatrist does not make me any less spiritually sensitive, Yuusuke.”

Sore spot? He almost pursued it, but then decided to shut up. Besides, he had other things to ask her. “Have you seen Keiko lately?” It surprised him a little how easily her name escaped his lips.

“I saw her the other day at the supermarket. She’s put on weight,” Shizuru answered, critically. Then she smiled, a light in her eyes. “But still pretty. Miss her?”

Instead of brushing off the question, he gave it serious thought. And found that he did miss her, a little. But then, he’d been missing a lot of people lately. Including this woman in front of him, so he’d better not make her mad. “Is she well? Did you speak to her?”

“Briefly. She seems fine. She’s handling the separation from Kenji rather well, in my opinion.” She seemed to think about lighting up another cigarette, then decided against it.

“And you, Shizuru. How are you?”

She stared at him for a moment, then burst out laughing. “Yuusuke, your manners haven’t changed. I’ve been talking to you for fifteen minutes and now you ask me how I am.” She shook her head, amused. “But to answer your question, I’m fine. A bit lonely, a bit bored, but that is to be expected in a big city.” She looked past him. “Ah, there’s Yukina with your tea.”

“Sorry I took so long, Yuusuke-san,” Yukina said, smiling a greeting at her sister-in-law. “Kazuma called just now, he’ll be home shortly. Yuusuke-san, please stay for dinner.”

She knew what his answer would be. “I’m sorry, Yukina, but I can’t. I’ve been away long enough as it is, and we wouldn’t want to irritate Koenma, now would we?” He grinned. “He might send his rookie Reikai Tantei team after me and I’d be forced to kick their butts. But I appreciate the offer.” He bent down to kiss her white cheek, which felt cool despite the warm sunlight. “I will visit again. Give Hotaru and Jun a kiss each for me, will you?”

She nodded. Yuusuke turned, and gave Shizuru a casual wave before sauntering off, hands in his pocket, looking much like he did eighteen years ago, a juvenile delinquent who had been saved.

Yukina turned to Shizuru. “Is something wrong?”

Shizuru did not take her eyes off the disappearing form. “Nothing much, I suppose. Let’s go inside, Yukina.”

He had come here without even realizing this was here his feet had taken him. He stood across the street from the house, hands still stuck in his pockets. The afternoon was beginning to fade.

He looked up at the familiar window, which was open, he noticed. Pale blue curtains billowed softly in the slight breeze, as if trying to get out. Who stays in that room now, he wondered. In the next house, someone was playing music very loudly. He didn’t recognize the song, it was in English, probably some current hit of the month or something.

"...And for this gift I feel blessed
Our little group has always been
And always will until the end..."

There was yellow light coming from the neighbor’s upstairs window, even though it was still afternoon. A face peeked out, an adolescent face, and for a moment their eyes met before the blinds were pulled down.

Perhaps he should not be standing here, he realized suddenly. These ningen might think he was a burglar or something, contemplating a potential break-in. He turned to go, then froze as the fingers of memory brushed across his brow.

“I just have one request…”


“You believe me, don’t you?”

He stood there a moment longer, then started walking away. Once his feet had taken the first steps, it was easier, and he went at a brisk trot to where the portal would be waiting.

It was time to go home, and he hadn’t been kidding. He really didn’t want Koenma mad at him.

Nobody knew where the Makai ended. Nobody had ever ventured to the edge of the Makai, if there was one. Its boundaries were uncharted, its landscape unmapped. It was generally accepted that the Makai was a world without end.

But everything had a heart.

In the heart of the Makai, where nothing had moved or breathed for millenia, something stirred. A shift in the air, a crack in the earth, a rhythm, like a moving fetus in a womb.

Stillness, as in the passing of a nightmare.

Note: I've been getting e-mails from people who are confused about certain things in the story, such as why the heck is Keiko with Kenji instead of Yuusuke and when did Shizuru become a shrink, etc. Eserine tells me I should put up a note explaining the timeline of the fic, so here it is. This story takes place about 18 years after the manga, in an alternate universe setting. Sort of. Thanks go out to those who e-mailed me about this. As usual, C&C's are welcomed, encouraged and entertained.

 Part Two

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