It was dawn that woke her up.

She lay on the mat and gazed at the ceiling, watching shadows slide along the wooden beams and melt into dark corners. Nobody else was up yet, and the house was enveloped in peaceful quiet.

She loved this time of the morning, this moment when night was leaving and day had not yet arrived. It reminded her of... it reminded her of what it must have felt like to be cocooned in her mother's womb. She wished she could remember the feeling.

Dawn was trying to climb in through the window. It slipped in through cracks and seeped under doors, until the room was filled with a misty blue-gray light. She sat up, brushing the hair from her eyes, and folded the blanket into a neat square. Rising, she made her way to the washbasin and splashed water on her face. Then she sat down before a small mirror and started to comb her hair.

All the rituals of everyday life that she had done for years.

Sometimes she thought of leaving. Not to find her brother, for she had found him a long time ago, though he did not know it yet. Now it was left to him to find himself. She could wait. She could wait forever if needed be.

But just to leave. To wake up one morning and take the first step out the front door and keep on walking. Perhaps to find a road and follow it until it runs out. She had never done that. She had always... stayed in one place. First the floating city, then the years of sitting behind a warded window, and now Genkai's temple. It isn't as if this is a prison, she told herself, I'm content to be here. I'm just not the adventurous kind.

Outside, the birds were waking up. She filled a wooden pail and went out, sliding the door close softly behind her. As she sprinkled the stepping stones with water, the sun appeared over the mountaintops in the distance. She looked up, and went very still.

The sight of cherry trees in sunlight was so lovely she could cry at the sheer beauty of it.

She remembered a spring very much like this one, when she still lived in the Koorime city, high up in the heavens with the clouds and the wind. She had looked down and seen the cherry trees in bloom, all covered in pink and white, and it had taken her breath away. And one morning, she had stolen down from the floating city, secretly, for the sake of cherry blossoms and the feel of grass beneath her feet.

It was also the spring that she saw a tengu.

The tengu had sat under one of the trees, dressed like a nobleman in kimono and hakama. Pink and white flowers fell around him like feathers. She had stared at his long, pointed nose and the wings sprouting from his back before realizing how rude she was being. Embarrassed, she had blurted out, "Ah, gomen, gomen nasai, sir..."

He had opened his eyes and regarded her calmly. His eyes were the blue of the sky. "A lovely little maiden apologizing to me," he said, as if in wonder, "Am I dreaming?"

She blushed and looked down at her feet. After a moment, she chanced a peek at him under her lashes. He was still looking at her and smiling. "Sir... if I may ask... what are you doing here?" she ventured.

He closed his eyes and tilted his face to the sun. "Looking for something I've lost."

"What is it that you've lost, sir?"

"Oh, a whole lot of things. I had a collection of pebbles once. They were my pride and joy. A kitsune stole them from me. If I see the little thief again I'd spank him until he howled." The tengu grinned and winked at her. His teeth were like needles.

She had lifted her sleeve to hide her smile.

It was some years later that she learned from one of the other Koorime that large tengu were different from the smaller, more common monkey-like variety and were rumored to possess vast knowledge and possibly the secret to the universe. She had remembered the smiling tengu in the grove of cherry trees. If she had known then, she would have asked him where her brother was.

"Yukina-san! Good morning!"

She woke from her reverie and looked up into the happy, blushing face of Kuwabara. She smiled. "Good morning, Kazuma-san. You're very early."

"Ah, haha, today's Sunday, so there's no school..." Kuwabara scratched the back of his head, grinning, "So I wanted to ask Yukina-san if..."

"You don't go to school even on weekdays, baka," said Yuusuke, who was yawning and scowling beside him. Keiko, completing the threesome, bopped him lightly on the head.

"Good morning, Yuusuke-san, Keiko-san," Yukina murmured, bowing a little.

"Urameshi! Don't interrupt when I'm trying to say something important!" Kuwabara yelled at Yuusuke, veins popping. He turned back to Yukina, his face returning to its grin-and-blush state. "Yukina-san, would you - would you like to go on a picnic with us today?"

Yuusuke rolled his eyes heavenward and laced his fingers behind his head. Yukina looked up at Kuwabara gazing at her with a hopeful expression, and her heart melted. Her knight in shining armor. Beloved.

"Hai, Kazuma-san. I would love to."

His face broke into a wide grin and he did a little happy dance before reaching shyly for her hands. "Ahhh, Yukina-san..."

"What's all this noise!" Genkai emerged on the porch, frowning.

"Haha, what a face, Baasan! Be careful not to scare all the birds away!" Yuusuke laughed and was kicked into parts unknown by the combined forces of Genkai and Keiko.

Keiko turned to Yukina and said, "Atsuko's coming, too, so you can be sure there'll be lots of booze. Have you ever tried beer, Yukina?"

Yukina shook her head.

"Then be sure to try some today," Keiko smiled.

Yukina returned her smile. "I don't think so, Keiko-san." She looked at the trees bathed in golden sunlight and the cherry blossoms drifting down like feathers. It was very beautiful. "I'm just not the adventurous kind."



~ Tengu = creature from Japanese mythology, often depicted as either men with the head and wings of a bird, or a "yamabushi" (mountain priest). An interesting fact - a really notorious hideout for tengu is apparently Mt Kurama, near Kyoto, the mountain, of course, from which Kurama derived his name. Aahhh, Kurama... *_*
~ Yukina's so sweet in the YYH movie, 'specially when she tried to protect Botan from big bad Yakumo. And isn't she and Kuwabara just so cute together? ^_^

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May '99