Dying felt very much like drowning, or what Kuwabara had thought drowning would feel like. At least he assumed; He had never done either before.

Sinking into a cold darkness as his lungs ceased working, conscious utterly blank and time disappeared. Or maybe it was that his perception of it did? Dying made one very contemplative, that was odd. Some dark haired person invaded the peace Kuwabara had found, a child and adult all at once; Laughing and pleased vocalizations. Mulberry…Why did he not feel that same happiness looking at that man?

Dead people didn’t worry this way; he was sure of that and it only added to confusion.

Time passed, it might have been minutes or weeks or years, death also hurt. A dull and aching pain radiating from where that youkai had pierced his chest and the world was made up of sound and color once more—both muffled, as if his ears were filled with cotton, and his eyes covered in gauze.

A Pale blue kimono and tiny, cold hands became his world. Red eyes and the undeniable smell of freshly fallen snow, through the haze, it felt as if he were suspended in a dream, this beautiful, tiny angel tending to him without question.

"Please, drink," Her voiced asked. So much unlike that dark person of his memories- And he drank.

"Sleep," She asked again, and he slept.

"Eat," And he ate.

Anything that was asked, Kuwabara obeyed, any time those chilled fingers touched his face, and he felt that being dead might not be so very terrible if this was the afterlife. After a month, Yukina was glad to see improvement in the strangers’ condition; since her father (and a few of his students) had found this man lying in the snow, bleeding and unconscious. Being a human, they had assumed he had been attacked by one of the stray, primal youkai that wandered the forest beyond the doujou’s ward barrier, and he had been brought back.

Yukina had been tending to him ever since, her youki was unable to heal his wounds fully, so that meant keeping him asleep with herbs and simply waiting for him to heal.

Despite his size, she felt like he needed to be protected. Of course, her father would say that was just her maternal instincts she seemed to have for anyone and everything. It was…Something else, and that was all.

And now, after the new moon, it was safe to no longer sedate the stranger. Yukina was looking forward to finally meeting him, and was on her way to check his condition when she was ambushed by three of her fathers’ youngest students as she walked through the halls, carrying a tray of food (he would undoubtedly be hungry).

This happened daily, and now that they had a topic to ask her about, Yukina was sure they would miss having a reason to ask her a slew of questions.

"Yukina-san! Wait," The tallest would chirp, Kirishima was always the most outspoken, Ookubo and Sawamura the quiet ones; "How is he doing today? Do you need any help carrying anything?"

"We’d be glad to help!" The shortest and rotund boy spoke up from behind the other two, instantly quieting down as Yukina smiled his way. "No thank you, Ookubo-kun, I’m alright on my own."

"So he’s supposed to wake up today? Is Toguro-shihan sure he’s even human?" Sawamura asked this, a dubious look on his face as he ran a hand over his very short cropped hair.

"Does that matter? Don’t you trust papa’s judgment?"

"I—No, of course not, I mean of course I trust Toguro-shihan. I was just…Worried."

"The world outside the doujou has been full of rumors," Kirishima offered up, as if it were something tragic and amazing, "Humans working for youkai and killing their own, youkai seeking refuge in the human world. We’re worried for you, Yukina-san."

Repressing a laugh over Kirshima’s expression, he tried too hard to be serious, Yukina moved to step past them, "You could come with me, so in the least, you can see for yourselves he is not dangerous."

Entering the room, Yukina was surprised the stranger was already awake, sitting on his futon and looking quiet alert. Hazel eyes turned her way, and the girl felt her heart jump; what an odd reaction.

Setting the tray down near the futon, she knelt and reached for his chest- She would need to check his bandages, but the orange haired man drew back, looking flustered.

"I only want to see your wounds."

"…I…Where am I?"

The confusion painted across his face was obvious, and Yukina pulled away, folded her hands on her lap while the three men that had followed her sat as well. "This is the Toguro doujou, my father is the owner. We’ve been tending to you since papa brought you here."

"Tend…How long have I been here?" His Japanese was silted, as if the words were foreign to his tongue. Something seemed to click in his mind, and his expression became uneasy, his whole body showing it as he leaned forward, one hand almost reaching for Yukina. "Where is Urameshi-ouji?"

"Who?" Kirishima asked, a little unnerved at this man acting so familiar with Yukina. "My Prince, my liege—was he not with me?"

Yukina shook her head, pity for him growing, "No, you were alone." He seemed dazed at this, eyes lowering to the floor. "I am sure your lord is fine-- May I ask your name? Mine is Yukina."

He started, as if not realizing what he was doing, and sat up straight once more. "Kuwabara Kazuma, my lady. I am indebted to you for my life-"

"Kuwabara? Like that scary woman from Genkai-shihan’s temple?" Sawamura asked before Yukina could ask the very same thing, sharing a look with his friends.

Kuwabara looked more confused, and Yukina was as well, this was an impossible coincidence. "Kuwabara, you said? I know one called Kuwabara, she is my dearest friend."

"…What?" His tone was breathless, hands clenched on the blanket covering his legs to stop them from trembling. Without turning around, Yukina calmly asked the three men sitting behind her, "Kirishima-kun, Ookubo-kun, Sawamura-kun, would you please leave the room?"

"But, Yukina-san—"

"Please, Kirishima-kun."

She paused until she heard the three raise and leave the room, then continued.

"Her name is Kuwabara Shizuru and once when we were young, she confided in me her sorrow over the loss of her family. And her regret she had not been able to protect her younger brother from the world."

For a moment, all the red-head could do was stare at the koorime, eyes widening and then he slowly bowed his head once again. It wasn’t until he started to tremble that she realized Kuwabara was crying; silently, tears were dripping down his face onto the blanket. "O…Oneesan…Is alive?"

Hesitantly reaching out to brush a few of those long, copper locks away from his face, Yukina smiled. "The Gods must be playing a game, Kazuma-san…"

He accepted that comforting touch, and she was glad. Yukina felt as if she knew him, even if this was the first time they had spoken. Perhaps it was due to his sister, and in any case it wasn’t long before Kuwabara wiped his eyes and offered an apology. Yukina just smiled once more and set the tray with rice and tea she had prepared him on his lap, then left him alone to his thoughts.

This was too much of a coincidence, truly. It took far too long to eat, every movement of the chopsticks triggered a new set of thoughts; His sister was alive, alive. Yuusuke was not here, and had never been. Where was his Prince? Which should he do fist, ask to meet with Shizuru or look for Yuusuke? Why was he asking himself, Yuusuke was more important- I want to see my oneesan. He was allowed to be selfish, this once, wasn’t he? But that selfishness might be just enough time for Yuusuke to end up dead, if he wasn’t already.

That girl, Yukina, made him so unnerved…She was so beautiful, breathtaking and kind. A youkai, he could tell that much from her youki aura, but as he well knew, not all youkai were the same. He had fleeting recollection that she had taken care of him; Fed him, held a cup to his lips, tended his wounds. Touched him oh, so gently…

His heart was swelling in his chest even when he thought of her; Yukina-san…Thinking her name gave him shivers, was this love?

This warm and content feeling?

No, he hardly knew her!

Oh, but it must be…Yuusuke’s face flashed through his mind, worried and panicked, Kuwabara could still feel the youkai’s hands pressed against his wounds.

No…He was worried, that he would loose me. That doesn’t mean he loves me…No, no.

Somehow, Kuwabara felt that might not be the truth.

By the time he was done, Kuwabara was resolved. He could see his sister, and still look for his Lord. There…There was time— Although, Yukina had never told him how long he had been in this place. It could be months later…

There was a set of clothing laid out for him; Plain blue hakama, tabi and a brightly patterned kosode. Surprisingly, all were even a bit too large for him. A simple thing as changing his clothes made Kuwabara feel weary, as if he hadn’t moved in a long time. No doubt about it, before he could even look for Yuusuke or see his sister, Kuwabara would need to gain back the muscle mass he had lost.

Shrugging on the kosode, Kuwabara paused to touch the bandages wrapped around his chest; a very slight pain when he pressed against the area those wounds had been was all he got. No sharp, breathtaking agony.

He had been so close to death…After he finished dressing, as he was tying his hair back (Yuusuke had never wanted him to cut it, so he did not), the door slid open and one of the men that had been in the room before stuck his head in.

"Err, Kuwabara-san?"

San? Me?

"Yes…Kirishima, was it?" The brunette in the doorway nodded, looking surprised Kuwabara had remembered his name.

"Toguro-shihan wishes to speak with you, if you would follow me?" Toguro turned out to be an elderly man; however he was not frail at all. He was taller than Kuwabara, body powerful looking with his grey hair pulled back in a tight top-knot; he let out a laugh that made bones tingle when Kuwabara had bowed to the older man.

"No need to do that, boy. I would rather look you in the eye than have you grovel at my feet."

He waved a hand to dismiss Kirishima from the room, then sat beside his adopted daughter, Yukina smiling at Kuwabara as he follow suite, feet tucked beneath him.

"I hear you’re related to Genkai’s star pupil?"

"Yes sir, she is my elder sister. I…Thought she died when I was much younger."

"You wish to see her, of course?"

Kuwabara nodded, turning red when Yukina giggled at how eager he looked.

"You’ll have to wait. It’s almost springtime, the snows are already melting. Then, traveling will be easier and safer." Toguro said, ignoring the way Kuwabara flushed at any noise Yukina made. Ah, seeing his daughter so spirited did his heart well, but worried him at the same time.

"If I may ask, how long have I been in your gracious care?"

"Over one moon cycle, healing a wound like that takes time."

The young man looked to his knees, an entire month?

"IfI may ask, Kuwabara, where is it in the Makai you are from?" He went on, heading off Kuwabara’s next question, "I have some…Experience with the Makai. Your old clothing and the fact you appeared in the middle of nowhere, I had my suspicions."

Nodding again, Kuwabara told the older man how he had come to live in the Makai, about his time in Raizen’s palace and the attack that had driven both he and his Prince into exile.

When Toguro fell silent, a dark look on his face, Kuwabara fell silent.

"I must apologize to you, Kuwabara. It was my good for nothing elder brother that almost killed you." He glowered at past memories, tucking his hands into his sleeves. "In my youth, I nearly made the mistake of giving up my humanity; the woman I loved made me see how foolish that would be, but my brother was always a heartless man. Becoming a heartless youkai was the next step."

Kuwabara stayed quiet, what was there to actually say?

"If I had made the same blunder he did, I never would have spent my life with Genkai, or know the joy of having a daughter as perfect as Yukina-chan-"

"Papa, don’t embarrass Kazuma-san."

"Oh? First name? Ah, my little girl is growing up."

"I’m already two hundred and ten years old, Papa."

"Please, to me you’re still that wee girl of one hundred and fifty!"

"…Wha…" Kuwabara managed, gaping at Yukina as she laughed behind one hand, her father explaining; "You don’t know how youkai age? In human years, my little Yukina-chan is over two decades old in human time, yet to a youkai she’s still little under seventeen years old. He let out another laugh, watching Kuwabara turn red around the ears, and smiled at the boy. "I have made a decision. Since it is fault of my blood that you have suffered, you will certainly have my help in finding this Urameshi-ouji. Until then, I will help you return to fighting condition."

"My thanks, Toguro-shihan. I…Haven’t much experience outside of kendo-"

"No worries, I’ll teach you. Come, I will teat you to a tour of the doujou." Toguro moved to his feet, movement smooth despite his age and chuckled once more watching Kuwabara scramble to follow.

Walking behind the older man, side by side with Yukina, Kuwabara caught her smiling up at him once again.

"I’m glad you are among the living, Kazuma-san."

"I...I’m glad to be here."

As she looked away, he was glad it would be a while before he could look for Yuusuke…And that was…Not so bad, was it?’

A/N: Being sick sucks any inspiration to write out of a person, oho. Yes, in this AU Toguro-oto never wished to be a youkai, and adopted Yukina when she wandered into the human world, instead of Tarukane ever getting his hands on her. Yes, he is a good guy.