By: Ryquest

I dared not stare into her eyes.

I dared not reach for her, touch her, marvel at the softness of her skin and the highlights on her purple hair. I dared not ask her out on a date, walk across the park with her on my arm, her laughter like a thousand bells mingling with the gentle breeze. I dared not let her know I cared for her most of all, save as perhaps a friend.

There were too many things I dared not do. I hated myself for it. I could not be a part of her life in a more significant way.

But it was the best thing I could do for her, I knew, deep in my heart. There were too many things that could go wrong, for either of us. How would she stand losing her life as a ferry girl, something that she has been for several hundred years? And how would she bond with a thousand-year-old youko -- and a hunted, hated one at that? More importantly, will she ever love me as much as I held her in my regard?

There are too many unanswered questions in life, and often they are the most important ones.

And lately, I have seen her in the arms of another. Enfolded in his embrace, she seemed content and almost happy. Almost.

I would have believed it had not our eyes met, as she walked down the aisle in her pale pink wedding dress, where at the other end stood Koenma and his father, Enma Daioh. The Reikai Prince looked handsome in his blue coat, and for once his pacifier did not adorn his lips. He was the picture of subdued excitement and contentment. Just as she had been.

Had. Because as our gazes locked, I noted the faint flicker of regret that seemed alien on her cheerful face. And just as quickly that had I not been so sure of the emotion in her eyes, I would have doubted I saw the change in her expression at all. But I knew, there and then, what I had never perceived, even with vaunted youko senses.

For my heart knew what I had wanted, but levelheaded logic dictated otherwise. And because my cold and logical youko self triumphed, I had kept to myself any special feelings I might have had for the woman. Though being partly human, I felt most keenly the sense of her loss.

And now I stood with Urameshi Yusuke and Kuwabara Kazuma by my side, and we watched as Koenma took Botan's hand and turned toward his father, the Lord of Reikai, who was to perform the joining ceremony. And we were to witness the wedding that would make Botan a Princess. Though she had long been such in my dreams.

Dreams. In my dreams we were together, she and I, hunting under the silver-streaked moonlight of the Makai moon. I will have been running, feeling the richness of the ground throbbing with life beneath my paws, while she flew along beside me on her oar. And when we tired, I would stop being a fox and revert to my youko form, to some semblance of humanity, at least, and I would hold her as we lay in the ground and marvel that the greatest treasure any hunt can yield is love. Or in other dreams she would be my wife in Ningenkai, and we would have a child or two, growing up in living human lives.

I wonder now if she ever had such dreams.

And I wonder if I will ever have such dreams again.

"I promise to cherish you, care for you and share with you my life, for from now on we will live as one, with a unity of purpose, until death claim us both. You shall be Princess of Rekai, and Queen when I am King, and together we will be responsible for each other's happiness and prosperity, as well as loneliness and grief, shared always.

"And I swear to love you always with all my heart."

Koenma had spoken the words, and each syllable he uttered was like a dagger being plunged deeper into my heart. For I knew I would have uttered the same words, to bond myself to her, to completely make her mine just as I would be. To keep no barriers, hold no secrets, even about my shady past. For I knew she would've understood.

And now it was Botan's turn to bond herself to him.

"And I promise to be with you, your companion and guide, to support you in times of need, and to rejoice in your joy and weep with you in sorrow. I will be your Princess worthy of a great Prince, and then Queen to King if the time should come. In togetherness, to live the rest of my life with you.

"And I swear…to love you always…with all my heart."

They turned to face the crowd as Botan uttered the last few words, and as they did, her eyes caught mine again. And somehow I knew, though I could not tell exactly how, that her final words had been meant for me. Then will a little shake of her head, she faced her new husband fully and smiled as he bent down to kiss her, to cheers of onlookers.

I could only clap politely, but never cheer. Yet the least I could do was pretend to be happy for them, knowing that they would be perfect for each other. Perfect, though not right. For with a single glance, Botan had informed us that she would rightfully have been mine. Damning the consequences. And I had been too cautious to see.

Yusuke nudged me, and we approached the dais to greet the newly-weds. I kept my face as impassive as I could, though I knew that if she looked into my eyes there was no way I could shield the truth from her probing glance. I shook Koenma's hand firmly in congratulations, because though hurt I was I knew he would be good to her. Just as he had always been as her employer.

"Omedetou gozaimasu," I said quietly, my voice sounding neutral, polite, unconcerned.

"Arigato," he replied, his topaz glinting in scrutiny and silent challenge. I returned his gaze, returning the challenge, though he must have known I have already yielded much to him. Finally, he nodded and his gaze turned slightly away, toward his bride.

"I meant it," I offered, and was surprised to find out that I did. I wanted them to enjoy a full, contented life together. "Do take care of her."

"I will," he promised. We shook hands, both our grips firm and sure. And I knew he would try his best to make her happy in his own way.

Finally I got around to congratulating the bride. Her hair fell freely around her shoulders, unbound by the ponytail she usually wore. Her dress clung to her form in soft satin folds, highlighting and accentuating her feminine curves with elegance. Her cheeks were slightly flushed, and she was smiling. A genuine smile, I was pleased to note.

"Have a good life together," was all I managed to say, my lips curved into an amiable smile I did not feel. Purple eyes flickered once again, betraying wistful sadness, though her smile did not change.

"A good life…yes…I hope we do," was her response. I leaned down to kiss her cheek, knowing this will be my last chance to do so in this lifetime. As I did so, she whispered in my ear: "No more than I hoped we would have, once. Goodbye, Kurama."

"Goodbye, Botan," I said, touching my lips to her soft flesh gently. Then, I straightened and turned, joining Yusuke and Kuwabara, who were already quibbling and fighting over the banquet food. I did not look back.

But I knew I would always remember her. And love her.

The last part of her wedding vow was all I had to truly hang on to. A message I knew she had meant for me. And words I will never mean for another.

"I promise I will always wish for your happiness," I whispered to the wind, "though you will never be mine but his, for the rest of your lives. Yet for the rest of my life I will never pledge myself to another, for long had we been pledged together, though we knew it not till now. And now though we will not know togetherness, the brief acknowledgement of your love for me will be my greatest treasure and best-kept secret.

"And I swear, Botan, to love you always, with all my heart."

This is a pretty short K+B fanfic (by my usual standards, at least). ;) Anyway I've long been wondering about Botan and Koenma's relationship, and what would happen if Kurama did - or didn't - step through. Seems I've been writing mostly angst stories lately. Ah well. ^^ For any comments/suggestions, please feel free to mail me. Flames will be frozen accordingly.

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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