Shroud of Deception

(Part I)

By: Ryquest

The silver-haired man flinched as he shook his head gingerly, aware of the gloom that seemed to surround him. He ran one hand through long, smooth hair and was somewhat surprised--no, amused--when he felt fox ears protruding from the top of his head. His brow furrowed in annoyance when his hand came into contact with a dark, sticky substance. Kuso…has to be blood…must've gotten hurt…but how? Vaguely, fleeting images came to him of a red-haired young man being stirred from sleep by a soft, cooing, somewhat hypnotic voice. Somehow, he'd seemed to be sleepwalking as he slipped out of the window of his room, walked through some dark alleys until he came upon a street with a dead end.

And then what? Something was wrong--seriously wrong, the white-robed man sensed. Somehow, he felt an affinity to the redhead, a sort of close kinship. Just who was that redheaded ningen?! Why should I be thinking about someone I even don't know?! Somehow, he felt that he shouldn't be in this form--that of a stunningly beautiful youko with shimmering hair of silver. He should be…someone else. But no, he steadied himself as he rose to his feet and examined his body tentatively. This form feels familiar, as if it truly is a part of me. Yet, it was strange, for he felt a void in his memory, as if some part of him was missing. Seems I've lost fragments of my memory…too many things I can't seem to recall. The man shook his head sadly. Amnesia? He frowned speculatively. This whole matter just feels unnatural…as if something…or someone induced my forgetfulness.

The kitsune youko slowly glanced at his surroundings, taking in the mighty trunks of nearby trees--Makai trees--some so huge that they obscured the view of the sky. He heard the familiar rustling of leaves as a passing breeze blew overhead, and he smiled as leaves and small flowers loosened by the wind cascaded down around him. I am Youko Kurama, and I am home. Yet though he found pleasure and pride in the thought, a nagging feeling still haunted him. Somehow, I feel as if I shouldn't be here. Yet where else could I belong? He repressed the urge to sigh, and instead scanned his surroundings with his senses. It all strongly indicated that he was in one of the great Makai forests where he made his home, and first discovered the plant manipulation powers he possessed that had since been integral to his being.

A sudden gust of wind seemed to pass alongside him, followed by a streaking figure in black. Youko Kurama whirled and came face to face with Kuronue. His partner smiled wryly, taking in Kurama's disheveled appearance and frowning as he saw the blood matting Kurama's hair. Kurama chuckled as he felt Kuronue's eyes rake over him in examination. His white robe was stained, soiled with both dirt and blood. His blood? Kurama sniffed at the garment, and a brief frown crossed his otherwise impassive features. The blood was both his and someone else's. Have I been to a fight? I somehow don't recall.

"How many times must I warn you about leaving me behind?" Kuronue sighed in mock exasperation. "Kitsune no baka!"

"I'm alive, that's what counts," Kurama shrugged, eyeing his partner evenly. "In our profession, that's the ultimate goal, really--just to be able to survive by the end of each day."

"True enough," Kuronue amended. "While adding to our formidable treasure collection, of course." Then he laughed and flung a red gem the size of a fist at Kurama.

Kurama caught the gem easily. He scowled at Kuronue before he glanced at the gem in his hand. He was immediately intrigued by streaks of green highlighting the polished surface of the blood-red gem. He raised it up to eye level and examined it in the light of the pale Makai moon. The gem was near-perfect, its surface smooth and unblemished. The streaks seemed to be part of the design and added to the gem's overall beauty instead of detracting from it. Kuronue smiled as he saw Kurama's eyes glimmer in apparent interest at this acquisition.

"Been active, haven't you?" Kurama remarked idly, tossing the gem back to Kuronue. Kuronue caught the gem and hid it within the folds of his black vest. "Just where did you get that stone?"

"My secret," Kuronue smiled slyly, striding forward and clasping Kurama's shoulders warmly. "Been wandering around here and there. Demo…I go away for a while, and I find that you got yourself into trouble. Again." Kuronue smirked.

"Spare me," Kurama muttered, pushing away. "As if I don't have to bail you out more than once in a while." He mock-scowled and sighed exaggeratedly. "I suppose we should get back to our lair." Though I don't know how I got these wounds, and where I've been for the past few days. And that's unusual. Very unusual.

"If you say so," Kuronue said in acquiescence. His black wings unfolded as he soared along the trees heading west, Kurama pacing alongside him with sure, steady strides. The two vanished deep into the forest toward a small cave hidden in the distance. A lair they'd come to call a home.

Even then, nagging thoughts continued to haunt Youko Kurama. There was something that seemed amiss about it all--his being wounded, Kuronue's presence, and even in his being in Makai. He could not help but wonder if he was being a pawn in some dangerous game, where even he was oblivious of the stakes involved. Still, he continued keeping abreast of Kuronue, hiding his doubts from the raven youkai. I will find out who is behind all this, and he will know a youko's wrath.

Koenma stared intently at the huge monitor before him, where he studied the image of an unconscious redhead and his weeping mother in the ICU of a hospital in Tokyo. He also saw two of the Rei Kai Tantei hovering silently over the comatose figure. Koenma heaved a sigh as he watched the monitors attached to the figure bleep in constant intervals. His life signs appear to be fine, except for wild fluctuations in his brain waves. Koenma frowned as saw the young man twitch uneasily then sink back into stillness, almost as if nothing has happened. Except he won't--or can't--open his eyes.

The door of his study opened to reveal a pretty blue-haired girl in pink kimono, carrying a huge oar. Koenma nodded to the spirit guide even as his eyes continued to study the prostrate Kurama. Botan glanced at the monitor, sadness and worry in her pale lavender eyes. She'd heard from Koenma that Kurama had been struck with some strange illness that seemed to make his thoughts feverish and rendered his body comatose. Worse, the Rei Kai Prince had hinted that this particular sickness seemed to be a rare sort of brain fever of Makai origin. Koenma had sent Botan to inform Yusuke of Kurama's circumstance. Yusuke and Kuwabara had hurried to the hospital to watch for signs of Kurama's recovery or to at least observe the condition of the youko-turned-human spirit detective.

"How is he, Koenma-sama?" Botan inquired, peering at the screen. "Still no change?"

"None," Koenma affirmed. "And his condition seems to be worsening…the fluctuations in his brain waves appear to be wilder and come more frequently. I'd guess that he's experiencing some sort of mental seizure. No telling what he could be thinking about."

"Poor Kurama," Botan sighed, tears brimming in her eyes. The warm, congenial person she'd come to know was in trouble, and she couldn't do a thing to help. "If this keeps up…what will happen to him, Koenma-sama?"

"He may die," Koenma stated, shrugging. "I'm not positive, but if his mind gives…his body will, too. Maybe both human and youko. I can't tell for certain."

"Die?!" Botan cried in alarm. She never thought it would come to that. Not to the compassionate person the dangerous youko thief had become. He'd always been friendly to her, helping her out in chancy situations when he could. She'd come to admire his easy-going manner and strong resolve. Ever the perfect gentleman in contrast to Yusuke's curt brashness. Botan felt distress welling up within her at the prospect of losing her friend. "Masaka?! Isn't there anything we can do for him?"

"Sadly, nothing I can think of," Koenma said quietly. He felt sorry for Botan, whom he sensed liked Kurama--perhaps more than as a friend, though she has never admitted that to him. Possibly even to herself. "This is one battle he'll have to fight by himself…alone."

"May I…may I at least visit him, Koenma-sama?" Botan suddenly blurted out, purple eyes staring imploring at the Rei Kai Prince. "I can ask one of the other spirit guides to ferry souls for me for a short while--"

"Go, Botan," Koenma interrupted, giving Botan a curt nod. Botan's eyes widened slightly in surprise. Then she nodded grimly and hurriedly left the room. Koenma shifted his gaze back to the unconscious Kurama. The dangerous Makai thief he'd long been wary of--cunning, deadly, and capable of performing acts of notable cruelty. Yet all these were tempered by a human side that had come to know and appreciate compassion, concern and love.

"Go to him, Botan," Koenma stated softly. "I only hope it's not too late for both of you."

"Ne, Urameshi, what's really wrong with Kurama?" Kuwabara muttered as they left Kurama's hospital room.

"Beats me," Yusuke shrugged. "Koenma-sama sort of hinted that Kurama's condition has Makai origin. And since he's part youko, he must've been vulnerable to that brain fever or something."

"Strange how he suddenly caught it, though," Kuwabara mused. "Seemed well and healthy enough to me before."

"Too bad Hiei's not here," Yusuke mused. "He may know something about Kurama that we don't, being youkai himself."

"Feh, he's never around here," Kuwabara mumbled. "Chi, half the time he grumbles about being forced to associate with humans." Then he frowned, his expression slightly worried. "Urameshi, do you know that Yukina often tells me that she feels his ki sometimes, like he's watching her from a distance or something? Ano…he's not some hentai stalker or something, you think?"

"Hiei? Nah," Yusuke replied, grinning. "Maybe he just finds her cute or something…who knows what his motivations are?"

"Damn right," Kuwabara agreed, slapping Yusuke good-naturedly on the back. Yusuke glared at him for an instant. "Thinks he's so great--"

"Yusuke! Kuwa-chan!"

Both turned at the sound of a familiar voice. They saw Botan running toward them dressed in casual street clothes. They were used to seeing the Diety of Death appear seemingly out of nowhere once in a while, but what struck them was the expression of grief and concern on her face. She was not the usually bouncy and cheery Botan. She rushed toward them and pinned Yusuke with an imploring gaze.

"N-nani, Botan?" Yusuke stated, frowning. "Did Koenma-sama send you--"

"Iie, I mean, hai," Botan stammered. "Yusuke, how's Kurama? Is he any better? He's still alive, isn't he? He didn't die on us, did he?"

"Feh, of course he's still alive," Yusuke replied, gripping her shoulders. "What's with you, Botan? Calm down! Panic isn't going to do you or Kurama any good."

"So desu," Botan mumbled. "I guess…I got carried away. Demo, I can go in and see him?"

"Uh, I suppose so," Yusuke said. "Shiori-san is watching him for the moment. She knows you, so I guess it's okay."

"Arigato," Botan said, smiling wanly. "Ja mata!" She then rushed off in the direction of Kurama's hospital room.

"What's with her?" Kuwabara stared after her, his face reflecting puzzlement.

"Who knows? It's not like she's always been predictable or something," Yusuke stated. "Well, iku so! You never know…maybe by tomorrow Kurama'll be as good as ever. Or at least what can be expected of that kitsune."

"Shiori-san," Botan whispered as she entered Kurama's room, bowing slightly to the older woman. "I hope you don't mind me visiting Ku--Shuuichi."

"Not at all," Shiori smiled warmly, even if the smile was tinged with sadness. "I think it was so nice of you and the others to come see him. Especially since the doctors don't even know what's wrong with him…" Shiori glanced at the still form of her son and tears began to stream down her cheeks unbidden.

"Daijobu, Shiori-san," Botan gently approached her and gave her a gentle embrace. "He's overcome tougher situations in his life. I'm sure he'll pull through this."

"I can only hope," Shiori replied. "I don't want to lose him. I can't bear the thought of losing my son, Botan-san."

Botan nodded in understanding and held the sobbing woman. He glanced at Kurama and tears began to form in her own eyes as well. Kurama…you can't go…you can't die. I haven't even told you…so many things. How I've come to appreciate our friendship… The two women kept their vigil over the inert figure, occasionally attending to him whenever he screamed or cried out in listless slumber. Still, Kurama did not open his eyes, even in the onset of wild brain fluctuations registering on the monitors connected to his head, much to the disappointment of his two watchers.

Shiori and Botan shared a simple meal over dinner, chatting casually, trying to avoid mentioning Kurama's current condition. Instead, they talked about happier times, and Shiori told Botan stories from when Kurama was a kid. In most of the stories, Kurama was a silent, introspective boy. Mostly reserved, though even then he exhibited an affinity for plants and for learning. For which Botan wasn't surprised. Shiori's eyes sparkled as she spoke of her son, and Botan marveled at the depth of love the woman possessed for the man she knew only as Shuichi. A mother's love that made it possible for a youko to be human. You were so fortunate in that aspect, Kurama. I can see why you'd give your life for her. Because I sense she would do the same for you.

"How did you meet him, Botan?" Shiori suddenly inquired, a hint of curiosity in her voice. "He's never told me exactly, except that he met you through Yusuke.

Well, that's certainly true enough, Botan smiled to herself. Aloud, she replied, "I met Yusuke in school. One day, I was…walking home with him, when we came across Kurama." Though not exactly under friendly circumstances. "Then we started hanging out together, and he's been such a nice friend since."

"I hope you didn't mind me asking," Shiori said, "but you're different from those other girls from his class who drop by to see him."

"Huh?" Botan blinked, a bit taken aback.

"I mean, he talks about you sometimes," Shiori stated. "He'd tell me you're nice, sweet and pretty. I can certainly see that." She gave Botan a fond smile, which made the blue-haired girl blush.

Which made Shiori all the more curious about whom exactly was Botan in Shuichi's life.

"Ano…arigato, Shiori-san," Botan stammered, looking slightly embarrassed. Kurama…talks about me…to his mother? Then her voice dropped into a whisper as she glanced at Kurama. "I just wish that…I could've spent more time with him…" Maybe gone on a date or something. Not seeing him because one of the worlds was in danger.

Shiori nodded in sympathy as she stared into the hesitant eyes of the purple-eyed girl. "You and me both," she said gently, grasping Botan's hand. "But he'll recover. I'm sure he will."

Just then, Kazuya Hatanaka entered the room and approached Shiori. He nodded politely to the blue-haired girl and placed a comforting hand on his wife's shoulder. Shiori had been distraught when her son had suddenly been struck down by a strange illness. They'd brought him to the hospital, and his son had also been dropping by to visit his stepbrother. However, Shuichi's illness had been taking its toll on Shiori. She appeared worried and tired, and surely the stress must be taking its toll on her.

"Shiori," Kazuya said, "I know you worry about Shuichi, but you should get some rest. Let's go home for now. Then we can return to watch him tomorrow."

"Demo…what if he wakes up and find nobody here?" Shiori insisted. "And what if…he never wakes up again."

"Now listen," Kazuya stated in a firm voice, "he'll be fine. The doctors will find a cure for whatever ails him soon. But it won't do him good if his mother is taken ill as well."

"Sumimasen," Botan suddenly interjected in a soft and slightly embarrassed voice. "Ano…you should get some rest, Shiori-san. I'll watch over Shuichi. Then I can leave when you return tomorrow morning."

"Would you, Botan?" Shiori stared at the girl in amazement. She's volunteering to watch over my son? Is she really just a concerned friend of his, or…something more? Not that it's a bad thing at all, she mused. "Well…if you say so. I'll try to be back as early as possible tomorrow though."

Shiori gave Botan a grateful hug before Kazuya led her out of the room. Botan waved in farewell. Then, as they left the room, she turned her attention to the prostrate Kurama. He seemed so peaceful, with just a few wisps of wild red hair marring the sense of calm beauty. He is really is gorgeous, Botan pondered. She reached out to touch his face as she brushed away strands of hair partially covering it. She couldn't help the wave of sadness that swept through her as she eyed his still form. You would be more beautiful still, if you'd be your active self again. Even if then I cannot tell you how much you mean to me…

Kurama stirred slightly, and Botan tenderly grasped his hand. In an impulse, she embraced him, laying her head against his chest. The sense of his calm, even breathing seemed to reassure her. You can't die out on me…on us, Kurama…please don't die… Botan continued to hold Kurama until darkness took away day's light and the world of slumber beckoned.

Okay, that's Part I. This is yet another Kurama-Botan fanfic. This one's kind of speculative, a "what-if" type of fanfic that may not exactly conform to "canon". Still, it's an exploration of Kurama and Botan's respective characters. For any comments, suggestions, and (heck) even flames, just mail to ryquest!

Yu Yu Hakusho is a copyright of Yoshihiro Togashi / Shue Isha Fuji TV, Studio Pierrot. This fanfic is for non-commercial, entertainment purposes only.


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