The holidays meant parties and festivals and Ali had been invited to several. She turned most of her classmates down, but she couldn’t reject an invitation from Kurama to spend Christmas Eve with him and the other detectives at his home on the other side of town. Especially once the girls got wind that she was balking.
“Come on Ali,” Botan pleaded. “I assure you, it will be a splendid evening!”
“I dunno,” she sighed. “The guys are probably looking forward to a night off and would have more fun if I wasn’t there.”
Shizuru thumped her head with a gentle fist. “You’re an idiot if you truly believe that.”
Yukina giggled. “Besides, we’re your friends too,” she reminded her. “You wouldn’t want to make us sad.”
“There will be other people too,” Keiko added. “Classmates of Kurama’s. Maybe you’ll make even more friends.” She smirked.
Ali opened her mouth to protest more but Shizuru forestalled her. “Don’t make me drag you, cause you know I will.” Her dark eyes glistened, almost begging for Ali to make her try it.
She was a fawn cornered by four hungry wolves. There was no escape for her, and she laughed. “Well alright. If you gotta twist my arm like that.” She grinned. A quiet night in would have been nice, but she knew she would have a much better time with her friends, and her mind wouldn’t have time to wander if she was busy mingling.
They were out at the mall shopping for clothes to wear to the party when she expressed her hesitations. Newly inspired, however, she redoubled her efforts to find the perfect outfit. Modeling different styles reminded her of the first time she met the girls. As she came out of the dressing room in the first of several semi-formal dresses, she couldn’t help laughing at how far they’d come since then.
After a couple hours and a handful of stores, they each had something fresh and new to wear to the party. They headed to the food court to grab a quick lunch before working on the other half of the shopping.
Botan sipped a smoothie and sighed. “Why are guys so hard to shop for?”
Keiko snorted as she absently stirred her salad with her fork. “Tell me about it. I never know what to get for Yusuke.”
“I don’t envy you,” Shizuru chuckled, the smoke of her cigarette wafting lazily above her head. “But I wouldn’t stress about it if I were you.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Botan grumbled. “You have no obligations to give anyone gifts.”
“Technically, neither do you,” Yukina grinned across the table. “I’m sure Kurama doesn’t expect anything in return for inviting us to his party.”
Botan frowned and her cheeks colored. “Well it’s not like I even live here in the human realm, so I feel like I should get something to express my gratitude for being included.”
“All the more reason not to.” Shizuru shrugged. “Even if you can more or less teleport between the realms, you’re still coming far from home to attend.”
“Still…” Botan pouted as she slurped her smoothie.
Ali refrained from giggling aloud. She knew Botan had nothing but respect for their red-headed compatriot, but she also knew the other woman found him remarkably handsome. “If it means that much to you,” she offered, “why not give him something homemade?”
Botan appeared thoughtful for a moment. “But what would I even make?”
“Your sketches are amazing,” Ali replied without hesitation.
The ferry girl’s cheeks turned bright red. “They’re not that good,” she muttered around her straw as she forcibly sipped the last of her smoothie.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Botan.” Yukina’s eyes sparkled. “You draw such lovely pictures. You could make a career of it if working for Koenma stops being so exciting.”
Shizuru and Ali laughed at that. Keiko even smiled. She constantly worried about Yusuke’s duties as Spirit Detective, but she knew he was never bored.
“I can’t sketch something overnight,” Botan protested. “I’d be too self-conscious about it.”
“Give him one you’ve already finished,” Ali suggested. She had the perfect one in mind already and forestalled the question she knew Botan would ask. “That one you drew of everyone the day we went to the beach. It’s both sentimental and one of your most detailed pieces.”
“That’s a great idea, Ali,” Yukina smiled. “I remember you working on it at Genkai’s. It’s perfect.”
The color in Botan’s cheeks didn’t fade, but she was smiling under the praises. “Well, if you think it would do…”
Shizuru stamped out her cigarette on the ground. “It certainly saves you some cash, plus it gives me a great idea for Keiko.” The brunette sat straighter. Ali had the mental image of a wolf with its ears perked and sipped her soda to keep from chuckling. “Yusuke and my brother love food. You and Yukina could bake something for them and they’d be happy.”
“Oh I don’t know if I’d be any good at that,” Yukina stammered.
“Nonsense,” Keiko said. “We can do it together. My family runs a restaurant so I know a trick or two.”
“You guys can use my kitchen,” Ali offered. “Stay the night. We can watch movies and have a fun, relaxing night, just us girls.”
“I’m in.” Shizuru said. Yukina and Botan exchanged smiles.
“What a lovely idea.”
“My island was all women, but this sounds far more exciting than spending an evening with those frozen old crones,” Yukina laughed.
“I guess that settles it.” Keiko’s grin turned mischievous as she shifted her attention to Ali. “So what about you? Who is your special someone?”
Ali swallowed her soda hard. “What are you talking about?” she choked out.
The other four girls all glanced at each other, Keiko’s mischief infecting them all. “Who are you getting a gift for?” Botan goaded.
“Guys, I really don’t-“
“I bet it’s that adorable Takenaga kid,” Keiko interrupted her. “He has the biggest crush on you, you know.”
“No, I’d bet it’s Joe Ishyama in the class ahead of you,” Shizuru chimed in. “I’ve heard Kazuma and Yusuke arguing about how much attention he pays you.”
“Oh, I’ve seen him,” Botan added. “He’s a cutie.”
Ali sighed and resigned herself to finishing her soda while they debated matches for her. She realized it would be pointless to try and interject while they went through the roster of theirs and all the rival schools in the area. There were some names she recognized but most she’d never even heard of. They seemed to be enjoying themselves though so she watched them with an amused grin.
When Ali thought they had exhausted their list of potential suitors, Botan voiced an apparent epiphany. “What about Hiei?” she asked as though it weren’t the most ridiculous thing she had ever thought of.
Had Ali had a mouthful of her drink, she would have spat it all over the blue-haired girl. It still took her a second to regain her composure anyway. “Hiei? Why would you even think of him?”
“You two do spend a lot of time together,” Yukina mused to murmured agreements.
Ali regarded each of them silently. She didn’t like reading her friends’ thoughts but she didn’t need her telepathy to read what was plainly on their faces. They all thought there was something between her and the diminutive swordsman.
When she found her voice again she decided to set them straight. “Ok, for one thing, Koenma ordered us to train together every day after school. It helps me maintain control of my abilities and gets us to work as a team. For another thing, Hiei doesn’t even show up half the time, so even when he is there it’s not like we’re alone. Yusuke, Kuwabara, and Kurama are all there too.”
“What about at night?” Botan asked.
Ali froze with her mouth open, halfway to taking a sip of her drink. “What do you mean?” she stammered. How did they know about her evening ritual?
“Yusuke mentioned it once,” Keiko said. “That you always go out after dark and meet Hiei on the beach.” Her expression said she didn’t believe it, but she was also curious to know the truth.
Ali made a mental note to not take it easy on Yusuke in their next sparring match. She cleared her throat to continue setting the record straight. “I go to the cliff to meditate,” she explained. “The sparring helps keep me limber and in control of my strength, but I need peaceful meditation to contain my other powers.” She leaned back in her chair and drank from her cup.
“Besides,” she added, “I don’t meet him there. He follows me and keeps watch. He’s one of my bodyguards, remember? Most nights I never actually see him.” She recalled the last night she had seen him and felt her face warm at the memory of him carrying her home. She hoped her friends couldn’t read her as easily as she could read them.
If they noticed the color in her cheeks, they didn’t say anything. Yukina’s smile was knowing, though. “You could do worse than him,” she teased. “Plus, he is kind of handsome, in that ‘dangerous rogue’ kind of way.” She giggled as Botan and Ali both were seized with coughing fits.
Ali didn’t read Botan on purpose, but the other girl’s shock was so palpable she might as well have screamed the reason out loud. The knowledge that Yukina was Hiei’s twin sister sent a shiver through Ali as suddenly things became that much clearer to her.
The ice woman did not know the brother she sought was already in her circle of friends. And Ali finally had context for his uncharacteristic tenderness towards Yukina on the rare occasions they were all together. Particularly his annoyance at Kuwabara’s expressions of love. Ali had once or twice wondered if Hiei was jealous of the ginger, but now she understood. Her heart skipped a beat at this revelation.
She shook her head, as much to clear it of dangerous thoughts as to deny Yukina’s comments on Hiei’s looks. “Even if I had the time for a relationship, Hiei is hardly the type to care about another person.”
Botan had recovered from choking on her beverage and she chuckled hoarsely. “He is a hard one to get to know, for sure,” she admitted, her smile almost sad. Ali wasn’t sure what to make of that, but she had made it a rule not to read her friends’ minds on purpose and she stuck to it this time.
She decided to turn the topic of conversation back to their plans for the evening. “So, I guess we’re done with the mall then? We can swing through the convenience store to get baking supplies for Keiko and Yukina. Shizuru, you and Botan can go get a frame for her sketch, and I’ll get some snacks and movies. Wanna meet back at my place, say five o’clock?”
Their lunch finished and their plans made, they went their way on their respective tasks. Ali accompanied Keiko and Yukina to the convenience store. As they got the ingredients they would need, Ali loaded up her basket with snacks and drinks. At the movie rental shop, they helped Ali select a handful of movies. They left with several romantic comedies, some action films featuring very handsome actors, and a couple dramas.
Shizuru and Botan were waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs to Ali’s apartment when they were finished. Botan had her sketchbook and there were rolls of wrapping paper poking out of Shizuru’s plastic bags. “Let’s get this party started!” the older girl said.
“Party?” Kuwabara’s voice sounded from the top of the stairs.
“And you didn’t invite us?” Yusuke added teasingly.
The girls exchanged coy glances. “It’s girls night,” Ali announced.
“So, like, you’re gonna do each other’s hair and talk about boys and stuff?” Kuwabara chortled.
“That’s right,” Yukina said and his face fell in shock.
“And we’re going to watch movies and wrap Christmas presents,” Keiko added.
“You boys better not try to peep,” Shizuru said. “I’ll take you both out if I catch you.”
The boys swapped mischievous grins. Ali could see the plans forming in their minds. Kuwabara wanted to see if Yukina talked about him when he wasn’t around. Yusuke just wanted to prank them. She was already coming up with a battle plan as they made their way past the two teens and to her apartment. Botan wished them a pleasant evening off.
The tiny apartment felt cozy with the additional bodies and the girls filled the small space with laughter as they put in the first of the movies to play in the background while they worked on gifts. “You know they’re gonna try something, right?” Shizuru said, rolling the dough that Keiko handed her.
“Oh yeah,” Ali agreed. She smirked. “And I’ve already got a plan for when they do.”
“That’s our girl!” Botan cheered from the living room.
Shizuru went to help Botan frame her drawing while Ali assembled the snacks and helped Yukina and Keiko with whatever they needed. The cookies were coming out of the oven as the first movie, one of the comedies, ended. Ali popped in one of the action films and dug some games out of her closet while the cookies cooled.
About halfway through the movie and in the middle of a very intense game of rummy, she sensed the boys lurking outside below her balcony. They made enough noise arguing about who would boost who that she didn’t need to rely on her supernatural powers to know they were there. She gave the other girls the signal and they nodded their understanding.
By the door to the balcony, they had assembled a row of containers of various shapes and sizes, each filled with water. At her signal, they all grabbed a bucket. She opened the door, letting the cool winter air pour in. “Freeze, trespassers!” she shouted as they all dumped their bowls and buckets over the railing onto the two unsuspecting boys below.
Yusuke and Kuwabara shrieked as they were doused. “That’s cold!” Yusuke cried. “You’re gonna pay for that!”
He decided he didn’t need Kuwabara’s help getting up to the third floor and leapt to her railing in a single bound. Kuwabara shivered on the ground. “It’s your funeral, Urameshi!”
Ali and Yusuke were face to face for a heartbeat before Keiko’s leaden pillow came flying between them. “Yusuke, you jerk!”
Ali cackled as the force of the pillow knocked him off the railing and back to the ground with Kuwabara. She managed to snag the pillow before it could fall with him and handed it back to Keiko. “Nice shot,” she said. Keiko blushed.
“Don’t even think about trying any more stupid stunts like that,” Shizuru hollered while shaking a fist. “I’ll clock you into next week!”
Kuwabara muttered apologies to his sister and urged Yusuke to leave. They would catch a cold if they didn’t get inside and dry. Ali knew they wouldn’t try again.
The rest of their night passed uneventfully. A heated game of poker had Botan in tears by the end of it, but Shizuru promised to go easy on her when it came time to pay her debt. Keiko had turned out to be the biggest surprise to Ali. She had won nearly as many hands as Shizuru.
A sly grin spread across her face when Ali commented on it. “What? You think I spend all that time around Yusuke and don’t learn a little hustle?” Her cheeks colored as they laughed. “Don’t you dare tell him that though.”
“We would never betray the best of you, Keiko,” Botan said in her usual cheery voice.
“Hear, hear!” the other girls echoed Ali’s sentiments.
They stayed up late finishing one of the dramas while also chatting about school and life in general. No one expected Ali to talk about her past, but she did confess her fears to them. They gave her words of encouragement and shared stories of their own fears and how they handled them, or didn’t.
The hardest thing for Ali to listen to were Yukina’s fears that her brother was already dead, lost to her before she could ever meet him. Ali knew she couldn’t say anything, and she saw her pained expression mirrored on Botan’s face. Yukina took it for empathy of course, which did make her feel better, so Ali didn’t feel as bad about lying about it.
Eventually they all fell asleep. Shizuru sprawled on the futon with Yukina, Botan, and Keiko curled up on the floor under the kotatsu. Ali had fallen asleep with them, but moved to her bed at some point during the night. That was where she woke to the smell of breakfast cooking in the other room.
“Keiko you are a goddess made flesh,” she said as she stumbled out of her room and into the kitchen where her friend had already assembled a small buffet for their morning nourishment.
The brunette flushed as she untied the apron around her waist. “It isn’t much,” she said. “But I figured after all the junk food we had last night, some real food would do us some good.”
Ali looked past her to the empty bags and cartons on her counter. “You went shopping?”
“Well I didn’t want to use up all your food! Besides,” she said, “you opened your small apartment to us. The least I could do was buy ingredients to make everyone breakfast.” She smiled as she took Ali’s hands in hers and gave them a light squeeze. “Merry Christmas, Ali.”
Ali’s heart swelled with happiness. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been given a gift. She wrapped Keiko in a tight embrace. “Merry Christmas!” she cried.
After the other girls woke up and ate, they helped clean Ali’s kitchen before diving back into their movies and games. About midway through the day, they started taking turns using Ali’s bathroom to shower and prep for Kurama’s party.
Ali and Keiko braided Yukina’s hair in two intricate weaves for her. Botan and Shizuru helped Keiko to curl hers. They each went with simple, but glamorous styles for themselves. A traditional Japanese-style bun on Shizuru made her look even more elegant and refined than Ali could have ever imagined her. Botan let hers hang loose. Ali didn’t think she had ever seen the ferry girl with her hair down before and was stunned by the difference it made on her.
For attire, Keiko was the only one who had forgone a dress, choosing instead a flattering pale blue blouse and dark dress pants. Shizuru’s midnight blue gown was floor length, strapless, and slit to the thigh. Botan wore a more formal version of her usual kimono in a violet that matched her eyes and accented with small yellow flowers on the sleeves and wrap. Yukina had wanted to go bold by forgoing a kimono and wearing a black sequined dress that fell to her calves. Ali’s own dress was a Christmas red with long sleeves to hide the scars on her arms but stopping just short of her knees.
As they all admired themselves and each other, Ali couldn’t suppress the wide smile that broke across her face. Kurama’s friends didn’t know what they were about to get hit with. “Ladies, let’s go turn some heads.”
A/N: Told you they’d be back. I love writing the girls so much. I gave them all little quirks that weren’t necessarily in the canon, something to further characterize them and make them at least a little bit my own. Botan’s sketching, Keiko’s hidden street smarts, and Yukina’s bold streaks were all my personal headcanons. I had a lot of fun coming up with different outfits for them to wear, too. The prank was something new to this rewrite but felt right because the boys are boys, after all. Ironically, I skipped the second half of this chapter and only wrote it after finishing the rest of the story. It felt good to write fluff after all the drama of the climax. (Spoiler? I should hope not, the climax is supposed to be dramatic!)