On the seventh day, snakes.
Day seven in hell was every bit as horrible as days one, two, three, four, five and six. Granted, every day was horrible in new and different ways, but variety wasn't exactly a selling point for endless torture (if anything could be). Being burned in fire pits, stabbed by needles, nearly drowning in waterfalls, balancing on pins for hours on end, getting beaten and blasted every which way, oh and he had to do all. The fucking. Cooking. And cleaning.
So the end result was always the same. Basically, Yusuke felt like the shittiest shit ever.
Normally, in his normal life back home, this wasn't an issue. He'd either beat the living crap out of whatever was giving him a problem or sneak away. However, neither were options here, in this beautiful lush mountain hideaway far away from urban life where he was constantly getting his ass handed to him by a three foot tall grandma the moment he tried to do either of those things.
Here, his only option of escape seemed to be to find a hole somewhere, fall in, and die.
Except he was too much of a stubborn, bull-headed dumbass to quit. The stupid old hag kept insulting him left and right and acting like she wasn't expecting him to survive anyways, and why was she stuck with this good-for-nothing, lazy, low-achieving 14-year old bum barely out of training pants.
Nothing particularly new from what he heard in school on a daily basis (aside from maybe the pants part). But for some reason, perhaps because he knew it was probably an act to piss him off, and because nobody else had ever really been able to kick his ass (angry ghost Sayaka notwithstanding, he didn't count that one anymore), it was different.
It worked, and it fueled his desire to prove that he could last the full month.
That said, he still felt like shit at the end of the day.
"Where do you think you're going," said the now all-too-familiar voice, gravelly and curt. It didn't even sound like a question.
Yusuke stopped in his tracks. His arms and legs were dead weights. He was beyond beat, physically and mentally, and for the first time in his life he didn't even have the energy to summon up a single smartass answer.
"To sleep on the needle bed," he replied.
"Not tonight," the old bag said. She turned and strode in the opposite direction down the hallway, arms behind her back. He could do nothing but follow, numbly. (The last time he'd rebelliously headed the other way she'd dropkicked him and slammed him through a wall that he then had to fix.)
They stopped in a small room, one that he hadn't yet been in before in this massive complex (how many rooms this ancient wooden dojo had, he didn't have a clue despite having been here for a week already). Yusuke looked at his new bed.
It was the hole he'd been looking for.
Actually, it looked like a very narrow, very rectangular pit built into the floor, maybe two or three feet deep, with a trapdoor lid that could be padlocked all the way around, and holes for air (good, he didn't feel up to learning how to hold his breath for eternity just yet). Carvings and tattered paper seals indicated that it probably shut in spirit energy, too. No lining or insulation. And the room was ass-freezing cold.
Whatever, he thought tiredly. Can't be worse than managing the pressing sharpness of needles against his back all night. He sluggishly climbed in, all his joints groaning in protest, and rotated his body to lie face up. He folded his arms against his chest. It was every bit as hard and cold as he thought it was going to be, and he was going to be sore as shit tomorrow when he woke up. If he got any sleep.
What fucking ever. He closed his eyes.
"One more thing," he heard the old bag say blandly. He squinted one eye open.
And that was when he saw it.
Grandma was standing above him, holding a box almost half her size with ease in one weathered hand.
The box was rustling.
Before that thought could fully register in his brain, she had flipped it over and dumped all the contents into his sleeping pit. Onto him. A flood of ropes and ribbons of all sizes, colors and patterns, big and small and long and short, cascaded out in a wave over him, smacking and whipping him everywhere as they landed.
Except the ribbons had little heads and eyes and flicking tongues.
"HOLY SHI-" Yusuke screamed, his upper body jerking. He very nearly jumped right out, but some other instinct just as quickly held him back down. This was a very good thing because one, there were some very brightly coloured things he was sure were poisonous, and as it was they were reacting to his yelling and sudden movement; two, the hag had closed the lid over his bed, and he could hear sounds of locks being rapidly secured around it, so if he'd sat up he'd have slammed the ceiling hard; and three, if he'd done so and didn't get knocked out (a complete possibility as Yusuke was fully aware of the power of his own thick skull) he'd have been stuck in a straining, half-up position with snakes writhing below his back all night.
"Nice break from the usual, eh?" he heard the old hag chuckle, her voice muffled through the lid. "A needle bed never changes; living things do. This should start to teach you mental discipline and self-control, and engage you in the art of mindfulness and self-awareness in your interactions. See you in the morning." He could sense her energy moving away as she left the room.
He wanted to scream all sorts of creative obscenities at her, but he was afraid something would dive into his mouth, so he kept it shut. It was black as the inside of that old bitch's heart (Yusuke was sure) and his own heart was beating like a heavy metal drummer on steroids. His breathing was getting faster and shorter too, and he bit his mouth, consciously trying to slow it down to avoid getting lightheaded.
All he could feel were leathery, dry, smooth bodies wriggling and sliding all over his arms, legs, stomach, face, neck, even through his hair. The sound of low hissing and rattling, hundreds of individual sounds melding into one, was almost hypnotic, permeating his skull.
Yusuke definitely never thought of himself as being squeamish or easily freaked out. But he was tired as hell, and there was something about small confined spaces and darkness and slithering things that you could hear and feel but not see (especially when they were all over you), something very old and primitive, that ignited a totally human reaction of terror deep in his gut he couldn't control.
He could feel his eyes starting to sting and tear up. "Mmmmm ...!" was as much as he would allow himself, squeezing the sound through tightly pressed lips.
Then something weird happened. His arm started to shake - faintly at first, quickly escalating into more violent tremours. The snakes on his arms and chest writhed, alarmed. When he focused on it, willing as hard as he could for it to stop, trying not to feel all the snakes around and on him, his left leg started to do the same thing.
Stupid fucking leg! Stop it! He thought something, or several somethings, would bite him for sure.
Fuck Grandma for picking him as a student, he thought viciously with all the hell-raising blind fury he could muster as he lay there, trying not to move. She should just choke on her dentures and die. Fuck Koenma for this case and shove that pacifier up his ass and string him on a pole with no diaper changes for a million years. Fuck Rando for existing and chasing after 99 plus one psychics; Yusuke couldn't think of a punishment the Reikai could give that was half as terrible as what he was going through with Genkai. Fuck Kuwabara for not beating Rando (then again, he would definitely have kicked Kuwabara's ass the next round, so that was neither here nor there, and the guy was probably in traction still, so fuck him and give him diarrhea with expired hospital food or something), and fuck Botan for her Tokyo Dome tickets that brought him all the way up this shitass mountain and he hoped she fell off her oar onto the tip of Tokyo Tower. And fuck his stupid self for thinking he'd actually be able to go!
He had no idea if minutes or hours had passed, but gradually, the movement of the snakes seemed to slow, though they all seemed to be trying to get closer to him. He was sure some of them, in addition to being poisonous, weren't your regular run-of-the-mill human world critters. His eyes had slowly adjusted to the darkness, and the silhouettes of some of the creatures looked … not normal. Not that he was an animal expert or anything. But he also felt tiny little bits of demonic energy flaring up and then down, mostly around his freezing feet, with almost desperate feeling behind the activity.
Faintly, in his terrified brain, he remembered some shit from school about cold-blooded animals like snakes and reptiles needing heat from the environment around them, unlike hot-blooded animals like humans and something something blah blah blah.
I'm trying not to die, Yusuke thought, and so are they.
It wasn't really that comforting of a thought, and it wasn't like he cared about these dumb snakes that were smothering him or anything. But they were so much smaller than he was (even though there were only, like, a million of them on him). And actually, he was mostly concerned about not getting bitten or squashing one - dying wasn't really a given. And despite his thrashing and shaking earlier, he hadn't been bitten.
He found that his shaking reduced drastically, nearly stopping completely. More moments passed and as all slithering motion began to cease, he actually started feeling kind of worried.
Tentatively, he tried to see if he could raise his spirit energy a little, circulating and pooling it in his cold feet, warming the air around his toes. The sudden burst seemed to inject the snakes there with a new life, and several began to wriggle excitedly, tickling the soles of his feet.
Oh shit. He quickly pulled it back; he didn't really want them to start partying all over the place. After some trial and error, he found he was able to modulate his spirit energy to give enough warmth for the snakes to bask in, but not enough to encourage them to start slithering everywhere. The snakes didn't all need the same levels of energy due to their size, so it required more finesse than he actually would have thought he could manage, especially considering how beat he was. It was going to take a while to figure out. But he had all night.
At some point, he must have drifted off. Because the next thing he knew, there was a loud clang jolting him awake, followed by a series of echoing clangs. This was accompanied by a whoosh of cold, bitter air filling the space around him, a lot of really bright light, and a raspy voice yelling, "How much longer do you need your beauty sleep, you slacker?"
"Ugh," he replied, squeezing his eyes tighter at the light. He couldn't have drifted off for very long, because he still felt like total shit. There were no clocks around, but he was willing to bet it couldn't be later than 4 am.
His teacher reached in and started scooping snakes out with one hand, her movements gentle yet lightning fast as she returned them to the other container.
"Good job," she said to her student, who was groggily pulling himself up into a sitting position. "They're all alive."
Yusuke was exhausted and completely missed the fleeting smile that passed over the Spirit Wave Master's perpetually-scowling face. Her tone otherwise was the same as usual.
"What the fuck are you talking about, Granny," he muttered, slumping over the side of the pit, arms sprawled out on the floor.
"Hurry your ass up," she said, spinning about and leaving the room. "Breakfast isn't going to make itself."
Yusuke cursed under his breath. Day eight was just beginning.
Author's Notes: This was supposed to be a quick drabble but grew. Sleeping with snakes is mentioned only in the English dub (changed from the Japanese manga and anime that references a needle bed when Yusuke's relating his training to Kuwabara), but I thought it was interesting to imagine this missing scene. Timelines are all over the place between the original Japanese and the English translation so I just ignored them and wrote whatever.
As a little FYI - snakes are not poisonous, they're venomous (their poison is injected). I'm pretty sure Yusuke doesn't know the difference though, and it actually sounded weird in my head to have him thinking the word, so pardon the use of inaccurate terminology.