Shroud of Deception

(Part II)

By: Ryquest

"Will you walk with me, Botan? Just for a little while."

Botan stared into the most beautiful and intense emerald eyes she had ever seen in her life. Eyes that seemed sad and haunted yet sparkled with curiosity and warmth. Botan felt her heart skip a beat, even as she smiled weakly and unconsciously withdrew from him. He’s supposed to be the enemy. Koenma-sama warned me about this charming, wily thief. But he did willingly give the mirror back to Yusuke. He only took it to save his mother, after all. Demo…

"Please. I’d just like to speak with you. No harm will come to you, I promise." Kurama extended his hand with a smile.

Botan watched him uneasily, then shrugged and took his hand. Kurama’s smile grew more pronounced, though to Botan he seemed slightly reserved and calculating. But she threw caution to the wind for a moment. She had to admit she was interested in what he had to say.

Kurama led her through the crowded, busy streets of Tokyo until they reached a park. They entered its relative solitude. Botan felt they had entered another world, and stared at the cherry blossoms falling all around them, flowing with the breeze. Sugoi…they’re so beautiful…a shower of beautiful petals just flying around everywhere.

"I see you like them, too," Kurama remarked conversationally. "Sakura flowers. They’re one reason why I love spring – it’s the best time to see them coming to bloom."

"H-hai," Botan replied. Then she straightened her posture and stared at him in as intimidating manner as she could manage. Which wasn’t much. She was irritated when Kurama chuckled. "W-what’s so funny?! First you drag me here – "

"You willingly came with me," Kurama replied defensively.

"Ok, brought me here," Botan amended, but continued, still frowning, "and you still haven’t told me why you wanted me to come."

"To see the cherry blossoms," Kurama said softly. Then he reached up and grasped a few of the petals falling around them in his hand. "So that you’ll know the reason why I chose to remain human. Why you don’t have to consider me as a threat.

"You see, I’ve come to like being a ningen, Botan. I have come to see Ningenkai as a thing of beauty, and people to be even more so. I have been fortunate to have a mother like Shiori, who will give everything for her son, and I can only deceive her in return, for I cannot tell her the truth about me for fear that she might never accept a youko as a son. My life would have been but a small pittance, in return for hers.

"But Yusuke helped me, and for that I remain alive as a ningen. In time I will repay Yusuke for his kindness, for if ever he needs an ally I will come. But his trust and respect I will earn through the warrior’s way – I must prove my worth in battle. And there will come a time when I shall.

"You, however…you’re a different matter. You folks of Reikai are wary of youkai, and perhaps rightfully so. But I would like you to take a message to Koenma-sama for me – I agree to aid Yusuke in repayment for my having stole the Mirror. And he need not fear that I will deceive him, for I am an honorable youko.

"In truth I would like you to trust me, Botan. I know trust is gained, not demanded, and I only ask that you give me the chance to earn your trust in the days to come. In this I swear I do not – and will never – deceive you."

"Kurama, all this is new to me," Botan admitted. "I can’t say I trust you – not yet. But if you will need a friend in a future, I can be one for you. In time."

"In time," Kurama agreed. Then he took a rose from his hair and handed it to Botan. It was a pale pink rose with streaks of red near the center of the flower. Botan accepted it gingerly, blushing slightly, but smiled at him. Kurama returned the smile.

"You need to go," Kurama suddenly stated. "I’ve kept you around long enough. You must have other duties to attend to."

"H-hai," Botan stammered, then produced her oar from the air, unsure if he was summarily dismissing her all of a sudden, but wanting to be away from Kurama for a while anyway, in order to sort out her feelings. She mounted her oar and waved. "Ja mata!" Then she flew into the sky and was gone, carrying with her memories of her strange conversation with him and the even more mysterious youko she knew him to be. 

Botan awoke with her head throbbing. She glanced around, expecting to see Kurama bed-ridden with the Makai flu, but she found herself in unfamiliar surroundings. She was lying alone on a carpet of grass in her pink kimono, and all around her she was surrounded by towering trees whose branches obscured any view of the sky. It was dark, and she could barely make out the outline of rose bushes at a distance. She was in the center of a small clearing, and walled by trees and a barrier of thorn bushes.

She groaned as another jolt of pain passed through her skull. She massaged her head gingerly, but was relieved to find no traces of blood. At least I’m sure I’m not bleeding. But I’m also sure I feel asleep watching over Kurama. How did I get here? Is this some sort of trick? She tried to stand and instantly her knees buckled and she fell heavily to the ground. It’s as if someone sapped all my strength. How will I ever get out of here?

So she passed the time sitting, trying to orient herself with her surroundings and calm her severe headache. In time the sharp throbbing subsided, to be replaced by a dull feeling on the back of her neck. When she felt she could stand, Botan rose to her feet slowly, afraid that her knees would give away again. But this time they didn’t, and she was able to take slow, uneasy steps toward the clump of rose bushes. She felt drawn to them for some reason. Perhaps it was because she was seeing black roses for the first time in her life.

Botan was about to pick a rose out of the bush when she felt her hand grasped from behind her. She was roughly wheeled around and found herself staring up into glinting golden eyes. She took in her captor’s long, flowing silver hair, the fox ears protruding from the top of his head and the white, sleeveless robe he wore. This left her mind in no doubt regarding the identity of the person facing her.

"Kurama!" Botan exclaimed, mixed feelings of relief, confusion and fear battling in her voice. "Why are you in youko form? What are we doing here?"

"Why am I youko?" Youko Kurama said, then he laughed bitterly. "Because I was born one, woman." He eyed Botan with scarcely veiled suspicion and hostility. "The question is – what are you doing here?"

"I don’t know!" Botan exclaimed, suddenly angry, hurt and confused by Kurama’s reaction to her presence. "I just awoke in this place – I don’t even know where ‘this place’ is at all!"

Youko Kurama knelt beside her, starting deep into her eyes with his disquieting golden orbs. Botan blushed slightly, her heart thumping wildly in her chest. I…I feel like he’s probing my soul. Taking all of me in with a single glance. And I feel like I can do nothing to stop him from claiming it as his own. She faced him as defiantly as she could, though she felt like closing her eyes tightly to shield herself from his gaze. Or I could stand and try to run away. But I don’t have the strength to do so. And not like he wouldn’t catch me if I did, anyway. So she stood her ground as best as she could, until he finally averted his gaze.

"Well," Kurama stated with a chuckle, "you seem to be telling the truth. You’re lost and yet don’t know why you are.

"And you’re scared. Of me. Which doesn’t surprise. What surprises me is something else I saw in your eyes. I could sense that for some reason -- though I never saw you before in my life – you react like I should know you."

"Because I do!" Botan blurted out. She shrank back when his golden gaze fell upon her again. "You’re Kurama – a dangerous youko thief, currently a Reikai Tantei, and…and my friend!"

"Reikai Tantei?" Youko Kurama said, amusement and bitterness in his voice. "Why would I serve as a detective of the spirit world for any reason? I know for a fact that those from Reikai distrust those from Makai.

"And I have this distinct feeling that you are from Reikai."

Botan let out a yelp of surprise as she was hauled to her feet roughly. Kurama held one of her wrists tightly, and using his free hand he cupped her chin and forced her to meet his gaze. There was hostility there, though his face was expressionless. A stiff breeze blew around there, and Botan shivered involuntarily, not only from the chill wind but also from the cold threat she sensed in her companion.

So this is what the true youko Kurama is like…far from the man who took me for a walk through the park and showed me how beautiful a shower of cherry blossoms can be.

Unbidden, tears began to flow from Botan’s eyes, even as the fear she felt for him grew. But strangely enough, she sensed with alarm, she still felt she could trust him. To do the right thing. And to remember her.

Kurama’s eyes softened as he saw her weeping silently. With a sigh, he let her go and turned from her, slowly walking away. He shot a short glance over his shoulder to see how the strange girl was, and was surprised to see her standing, tears still silently streaming down her cheeks. Her lavander eyes bore into him, and the open plea for trust he sensed in her gaze bothered him more than slightly. Kisama, why are you letting her bother you, Kurama?! He cursed himself silently. What is it about her, about her eyes that seem so familiar somehow? Why is it that I have left so many in tears, and yet feel like I can’t just leave her with tears in her eyes?

Muttering to himself, Kurama whirled around and approached Botan. Botan met his approach with a questioning gaze. Kurama sighed, then extended a hand to it. She gingerly grasped it, and he pulled her firmly but gently away from the rose bushes. Kurama led them through the maze of trees, though not a word passed between them. Botan simply let herself be dragged along, and she felt somewhat comforted by the touch of his hand. Finally, Kurama parted a clump of bushes and Botan saw that they were in front of a cave entrance.

"My lair," Kurama said simply. Then he stood aside and made a gesture for her to enter first. Botan nodded and walked ahead of him into the cave, aware that the path was illuminated by luminous flowers spaced evenly extending into the interior. The cave floor was even and smooth, and yet the cave was deep, and Botan found herself stepping through passageways that twisted right and left. She felt Kurama behind her – a calm, steady presence – and she knew that he was watching her for any false moves.

At last they emerged into the interior of Kurama’s lair. Botan spotted a table off to one side with a pair of chairs, and two pallets situated near opposite ends of the cave. Near one pallet Botan noticed some scrolls and a few roses. Black roses. On the other pallet lay a gold ring with a single ruby stone, a few emeralds and some silver necklaces. Kurama led her to the table and motioned her to sit on one of the chairs. Botan compiled, and he took the seat opposite hers.

"I live here with a partner," Kurama said by way of explanation, sensing Botan was observing the place. "The bed over to the left is mine. The other belongs to my friend Kuronue. He doesn’t seem to be in at the moment though.

"Now, it’s your turn to explain what brings you here. And if I don’t get a satisfactory answer, I can’t guarantee that you’ll make it out of this place alive."

Botan gulped, searching Kurama’s face for any trace of humor, but only found dead seriousness in his expression. Will he believe it when I tell him that I know nothing as to how I got here? And if even I exist in Makai for real? All I know is that I was watching over him and fell asleep near his hospital bed. Did I catch that Makai flu? Botan heaved a sigh, not trusting herself to speak. Knowing that Youko Kurama was likely not to believe her tale. But knowing she had nothing else to go on but tell her story. Hoping that there was enough of the Kurama who became her friend in him.

"I really don’t know if you’ll believe what I will tell you," Botan began, "because I know you don’t have a reason to trust me. But strange as it may seem, I’ll ask you to trust me. Or, at least, consider what I will tell you to be the truth.

"The Kurama I know is precisely not Youko Kurama. He’s Minamino Shuichi-kun – Kurama’s human name. The Kurama whose youko soul fled from Makai after his body was gravely wounded by a hunter. Who now inhabits a human body, and has come to appreciate being human. This Kurama became a Rei Kai Tantei, and…my friend.

"The last time I saw Kurama was when he fell ill with a deadly Makai flu – or so Koenma-sama said. And I was watching him in place of his mother. And then I fell asleep by his bedside. When I woke up, I was here. And then I saw you."

"A peculiar tale, to be sure," Youko Kurama said, rubbing his chin in thought. "It will not benefit you to lie, knowing that I hold your life in my mercy. So…for now…unless proven otherwise, I will accept this…story…and allow you to stay for the night. In the morning I will escort you to the edge of the forest. Then you will be on your own."

"H-hai," Botan stammered. She was surprised that he’d taken her tale at face value without quizzing her further about it. She knew him to be devious, and probably had a plan as to what to do with her. But for now, his mysterious acceptance was better than hostility. "Arigato, Kurama-san."

"You must know, however, that I am a thief," Kurama stated suddenly, standing up. Before Botan knew, he stood before her, looking down at her with a slight smirk. "And I give nothing away for free. In return for my allowing you sanctuary for the night, I must get something in return."

"B-but I’ve nothing," Botan exclaimed, digging into her pockets and found that they were empty as she suspected. "Please…if there’s anything I can do to repay you, I –"

"As you say," Youko Kurama said smoothly, reaching out and hauling her to her feet, directly into his embrace. "There is something you can do for me."

Botan gasped as strong arms went around her, holding her tightly against him roughly. She found herself drawn deep into his golden stare – eyes that sparkled with mischief and something else she could not decipher. Eyes that examined her soul and demanded – not asked – for unconditional acceptance to his will. She shivered involuntarily. He has ice daggers for eyes. A cold, piercing gaze that leaves his target bereft of defense against his probing. She knew that this close to him, he could feel her heart was pounding. And that she was blushing from his proximity.

"K-Kurama," Botan said, "what –"

"You are an attractive woman," Kurama stated, his voice low and husky. "I myself do not know why, but I felt drawn to you from the time I saw you fooling around with my roses. I cannot say I trust you or your tale. But…I want you. In a way I haven’t wanted a woman for quite some time."

Botan felt as if her heart would leap out of her chest, as confusion and excitement raced across her eyes. She struggled weakly and implored him to let her go, but his grip was firm and vise-like. His expression remained calm and impassive, even as she noted his fox ears twitched involuntarily and the sparkle in his eyes had grown more pronounced. She searched for the familiar warmth she once saw in intense emerald eyes, but found only golden orbs seemingly laced with ice yet tempered by a raging fire within. He used one hand to cup her chin, and he bent his head closer so that their lips were almost touching.

"M-matte!" Botan cried out in despair. "Kurama…please…don’t…"

Botan remained trapped in the youko’s strong, steady grip, but she could sense the flicker of uncertainty that touched Kurama’s golden gaze. Finally, with a sigh, the youko stepped away, fists tightly clenched and quivering slightly. He turned and strode back to the pathway where they had come, his face grim. Botan felt the anger and disappointment radiating from the kitsune. It feels so palpable…his desire had been almost overwhelming. And yet did not force me and had let go of me. Arigato, Kurama.

"You’ll find some food in the shelf near my bed," Kurama suddenly stated, though he did not turn to look at Botan. "Make yourself comfortable. I’ll decide your fate in the morning. In the meantime…I hope you get some sleep. Your body needs to rest, I think." With that, he strode into the dark pathway, leaving Botan alone in his lair. And leaving her to wonder at the feelings of gratitude and odd regret that he had aroused within her.

Okay, have finally been able to type Part II. This is probably my most explorative (a.k.a. weirdest) Kurama-Botan fanfic by far. Still, I've long been wanting to write about what it would have been like if Kurama and Botan met up while Kurama was still youko. More, er, speculations in the next part of this fic. 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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