Shroud of Deception

(Part III)

By: Ryquest


"Feh."

Kurama muttered an oath as he attended to his rose bush, carefully extracting several black roses. He shrank them into seeds using his youki and hid the seeds within his hair. He rose to leave, but as if in an afterthought, he picked several roses and this time did not transform them into seeds. He arranged them neatly and prepared to return to the lair, when he sensed a leering, amused figure watching for the shadows.

"Kuronue."

"Well, well," Kuronue said, chucking, as he swooped down from the branch he had previously been perched on. "At least it seems the woman hasn’t completely dulled your instincts, kitsune."

"How did you know about her?" Kurama demanded, repressing the strange emotion that welled up in him at Kuronue’s show of interest. It’s almost like I’m jealous because he’s seen her. Kuso, but she’s making me act strangely!

"I was watching from the trees," Kuronue shrugged. "You were too…preoccupied to sense me. Kisama, Kurama! You let her into our cave! You knew so little about her! What, do you want a new bedmate?! If so, we can always go to one of the cities and spend the night with a whore or two—"

Youko Kurama moved in a blur that had been too fast for Kuronue to sense, much less see. Next thing he knew, the raven youkai found himself pinned against a tree trunk, Kurama’s baleful gaze boring into him, one hand firmly clamped against his neck. Kuronue saw the flash of anger in the glimmering golden eyes, and was surprised at the vehemence he sensed within them – one directed at him. Kuronue grimaced. He knew that it was almost impossible to reason with Kurama when the kitsune was incensed beyond reason.

"This is ridiculous," Kuronue said evenly, keeping his voice light, though he was starting to feel nervous and very, very uncomfortable. The youko’s hard stare never relented. "All this fuss over an unknown girl. Come now, I can be reasonable. We can let her stay in the lair for a while, providing that you watch over her. I’ll even hole up somewhere else tonight, just so you can be alone with her. How’s that?"

 "Not good enough," Kurama hissed, throwing Kuronue a look of disgust that would have caused the other youkai to back away, only he was already shoved hard against a tree. "Promise me that you will not harm her in any way. Promise me!"

"I promise!" Kuronue shot back, getting angry himself. "Just let me go, damn it! Have it your way, Kurama! But tell me -- what it is about her that you will risk our trust and friendship for her welfare?! Has she cast a spell on you, youko? Or are you following some other…instinct?" At his he gave Kurama a meaningful glance.

"None of your business," Kurama murmured, letting go of Kuronue and walking away, leaving the youkai rubbing his throat. "She's not a thief, I think, so your precious jewel stash ought to be safe."

"Who is she then?" Kuronue queried further. "Damn it, but you haven't been acting like yourself since I found you bloodied and bruised the other day. And now you've taken a fancy on some strange girl who, from the looks of her, is actually from Reikai! You're supposed to be the cunning, intelligent one, but I'm not sure how smart an idea bringing her into our lair was."

"She needs a place to stay," Kurama stated reasonably. "And…there's something about her. It's as if I should know her from somewhere. And I feel as if…I should care for her."

"Suit yourself," Kuronue relented, spreading his wings. "I think I'll leave until you puzzle things out. Damn you and your sentimentality. In the meantime, enjoy her company. Just make sure she does not steal any of our treasure." With a flourish of wings, Kuronue disappeared into the forest.

"Good hunting!" Kurama called out, not knowing whether Kuronue heard or not. Not caring if he didn't. He picked out the roses he had dropped when he'd assaulted Kuronue, then carefully rearranged them neatly. Not much of a gift. A dozen black roses, slightly rumpled at that. But I guess they'll have to do.

Kurama extended his senses outward to scan his surroundings, and was satisfied to note that he was alone. He took one final glance at the forest, then reentered the lair entrance. He remained unaware of a pair of blood-red eyes watching from a distance. Eyes that sparkled and glittered maliciously, focusing on the youko with maniacal glee.

"So the game has begun, and the kitsune is being trapped by his own cleverness, the unwitting fool. And the woman has proven to be a nice pawn. Ah, my pretty, unwitting game-piece..."


 Botan sat uneasily at the edge of the bed where Kurama had left her. Kurama's bed, she noted absently to herself. But he is not the Kurama I've come to known. He is youko in all his untamed splendor. But…does that really make him a different person? Am I supposed to feel differently about him then? Botan bit her lip in frustration. She did not relish the feeling of helplessness she felt gnawing at her soul. Particularly when part of the cause of this was a kitsune she had grown to like and trust.

Botan took a sharp intake of breath as Youko Kurama entered the cavern. His eyes were still hooded and his expression unreadable. He shot her an indifferent glance before laying the black roses he held -- a dozen of them -- on the table. Then he began rummaging for food on a nearby shelf, seemingly oblivious of the nervous glances Botan was shooting in his direction. He drew out some bread, hard cheese and a cask of ale. Grunting in satisfaction, he seated himself on a chair and began to munch away.

Botan felt her stomach growl uneasily and berated herself for feeling so weak and hungry. Yet she dared not ask the kitsune for food. Even in her state she held a steely resolve never to beg from him or seek his help. Inwardly she debated with herself if she was just being stubborn, or if it was because she felt hurt by Kurama's callousness. Though exactly why his indifference could hurt her so was something she did not want to puzzle out, or even think about.

"I take it you'd rather starve to death," Kurama's chill, cutting voice suddenly interrupted her thoughts, "than share my meal with me."

"N-no," Botan felt her cheeks flush in embarrassment, but she raised her eyes to him defiantly. "I-I'm just not hungry."

"You are a poor liar," Kurama told her bluntly, his fox ears twitching slightly to reveal the irritation he felt. Then he tossed her bread and cheese, and watched with amusement the confused expression on her face as she caught the food. "But a hungry one, and I think I am not mistaken. Eat."

Botan glanced at him, then at the bread and cheese, and slowly began to eat. The bread tasted dry and bitter in her mouth, and the cheese had a sharp, biting though not completely unpleasant tang to it. Just like him, she thought. Yet she surprised herself that she was able to finish eating the food in a short time. I must have estimated how hungry I felt. She shot him a grateful glance, and he met her gaze steadily, as if he was probing her thoughts. Finally, Botan looked down and began to fiddle with her hands.

"Arigato, Kurama," she stammered, refusing to meet his probing eyes. "For the food…for helping me…and for putting up with me." But I'd better leave soon. There's no telling how long I can stand being around him…knowing that he may want me, but despite that does not…care about me.

"You're not much of a burden, really," he stood as if to approach her, making Botan cringe, her eyes wary and fearful. Youko Kurama laughed -- a derisive, mocking sound that chilled Botan. "A little too skittish, perhaps." He stepped away, and Botan inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. His presence was unnerving, to say that least. For more than one reason, she thought plaintively. He makes my heart thump in my chest, seeing him so near, his golden eyes gleaming in the firelight…

"Relax," Kurama stated, "I do not push my attentions when apparently spurned. Oh, I admit you still interest me, Botan, but tonight you are my guest, and being so I now offer you my protection -- even from myself." He chuckled slightly, a soft, wry laugh that reminded Botan more of Shuichi than Youko.

"So rest, and I assure you that you will not be bothered this night by anyone…in any way."

Botan nodded, unsure of what to say. She choose instead to turn her back on him, lay down on the bed -- his, she presumed from the scent of roses that seemed to envelop her and reminded her sharply of the cold, aloof, unpredictable, beautiful youko she was with. She turned her back on him, conscious of his steady gaze on her. She squirmed slightly, wanting to turn around to look at Kurama, but afraid of just how he would act -- and how she would respond -- if their eyes locked with each other again.

But he promised me safe sanctuary this night. And…I believe him. I believe that he is still a person of honor and dignity. I only hope my trust is not mistaken.

So Botan closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep, and soon repose claimed her. And throughout the night, she was guarded by a pair of contemplative golden orbs that never once wavered in their vigil. When it was nearly dawn, Youko Kurama stood from where he sat, laid the dozen black roses beside her sleeping figure and kissed her brow gently. Botan stirred slightly, her face open and innocent slumber, but did not wake. The youko smiled, an almost tender expression that seemed almost foreign on his normally proud, inscrutable face crossing his features. Then, shaking his head and sighing slightly, he took one last look at Botan and left the lair.

As soon as the Reikai ferry girl's guardian had left, a figure cloaked in deep, scarlet robes appeared beside her, his face concealed in shadows by his long cowl. He glanced at the roses, then at Botan. Murmuring words in the archaic Makai tongue, he lifted a glowing hand and Botan began to soar in the air, suspended momentarily as her body was shrouded by dull, yellow light. Then, with a snap of the stranger's fingers, Botan vanished in midair, only the small, red ribbon that normally held her pony tail that slowly fell to the ground leaving a trace of the deity of death's presence.

The youkai mage glanced at the black roses that Kurama had offered Botan in sleep and snorted. He reached out with a gloved hand and crushed the flowers in his grip. The thorns bit into his skin, drawing blood -- pale blue blood -- that mingled with the crumpled petals. Then, with a contemptuous gesture, he tossed the smashed roses to the ground, where they landed beside where the ribbon had fallen. The stranger then let out a deep, rumbling laugh before uttering another spell. Soon, he was encompassed by the same light that had previously engulfed Botan. And in the same fashion, he vanished after one final snap of his fingers, leaving no clue was to the whereabouts and fate of the ferry girl save for a scarlet ribbon and a dozen ruined roses.


That's about it for Part III. Please don't flame me for the frustrations being suffered by poor Botan. I assure you Youko Kurama's behavior serves a purpose in all this (it will become apparent eventually). And for anyone who's noticed my fascination for magic and mages, well, er, I’m a huge Dragonlance fan, particularly of a certain dark-souled mage in the series. ^^ No dragons here though…at least not yet…hehehe. ;) As always, for any comments, suggestions, and (heck) even flames, just mail to ryquest! Feedback much appreciated.

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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