Chapter One: "Chance Meeting"
"Well that's the last of the presents." Keiko Yukimoto exclaimed happily as she knelt down beside the seven foot, brightly decorated Christmas tree situated near the large bay window of her living room. Her slender fingers were clenched around a rather large box decorated in a dazzling shade of red and adorned in white ribbon and a matching bow which she slid gently under the lowest bough of the tree, the base full to bursting with presents of every shape and size. Keiko rose slowly, dusting off the stray needles stuck on her hand as she turned to her left, focusing her gaze over to a blue haired girl who stood rolling the last of the gift wrap that was spread on a large, rectangular maple hued table within the dining room. A grateful smile lit up on Keiko's face as she spoke, "Thank you for all the help Botan."
"It was no trouble Keiko." The deity replied with a smile as she lifted the rolls off the table and stacked them neatly within the large, clear plastic container resting on the seat at the head of the table. "It's the least I could do for letting me celebrate the holidays at your home," She added, placing the top back on the container before pushing down, the lid making a snapping noise as it locked into place. "Besides, I like wrapping presents. It's quite fun."
Keiko let out a light laugh as she walked over to her friend. "Most people find it stressful and time consuming." She said as she picked up the container and smiled. "But I admit it is fun to open presents. At least I find it enjoyable." She added, turning her brown eyes over to the deity. "Don't you think so Botan?"
The deity's features twisted in uncertainty as she replied, "I really can't say Keiko. I've never received a gift before. So I don't know what it's like."
Keiko looked at her in disbelief, nearly dropping the container in her arms. "You've never been given a gift before?" She asked in bewilderment.
Botan shook her head.
"Surely your friends and family in spirit world ...." Keiko began, her voice trailing off as the deity shook her head.
"Most of my friends in spirit world are too busy and my family .. Well ..." She said, her voice trailing off, her features pained as she stared over to the window were a gentle snow fall greeted her saddened amethyst orbs. "Let's just say I haven't seen them in a long, long time."
"I'm sorry Botan." Keiko said with a sad shake of her head, lowering the container back on the chair. "I knew your job was not the funnest one in the world, but I didn't realize how lonely it must be for you in Reikai."
Botan returned her gaze back to the sorrowful features of her friend. "But it was my job in spirit world that led me to my true friends here in the human world. And for that I am thankful." Botan replied with a cheerful smile to hide the pain her heart felt, the truth behind Keiko's words bringing a sadness the deity had trouble anymore suppressing. Indeed I am lonely. Botan's mind whispered sadly as her thoughts trailed off to the many years she had worked as a spirit guide to Reikai. Never once had anyone offered her a gift or treated her as anything other than a simple ferry girl. Just once I would like to be appreciated and loved. She added mentally, coming out of her muse when Keiko's voice reached her ears, dragging her into the present.
"You know what sounds good right about now?"
"What?" The deity asked, her voice and features curious.
"A nice hot cup of cocoa." Keiko replied with a friendly smile. "I always feel better after a cup of cocoa."
Botan nodded. "Sounds good." She replied with a smile, glad to move on to a different subject. "Would you like me to get the water boiling for you?"
"That would be nice." Keiko said, lifting the container into her slender arms once again, resting it against her chest, the dark green sweater she wore visible through the clear plastic. "I'll just put this away then." She added, tilting her head to the side towards the door that led to the basement.
Botan watched Keiko disappear before turning and walking into kitchen. She stopped before the white stove and reached out to grab the black tea pot resting on the back burner. Moving over to the stainless steel sink on her left, Botan rolled up the sleeves of her white sweater before reaching out to gently turn on the faucet. She allowed the water to run for a few seconds before removing the lid to the pot and holding it under the flowing water. Her gaze shifted up to the curtain less window above the sink, a peaceful smile gracing her lips as she watched the large fluffy snowflakes float down from the blanketed heavens above. She loved watching the snow fall. It always brought a sense of calm that soothed her tired soul.
The day to day escorting of souls to Reikai was always tiring work but it had never affected her as badly as it did now. She had always accepted the fear and anger her temporary charges had directed at her, an understanding smile and her cheerful disposition usually able to calm the more turbulent souls. But lately. Lately she had grown weary. The grief and burden of dealing with death had begun to take it's toll. She was burned out and in need of a vacation and to her surprise, Koenma had granted it, giving her the last week of December off to spend with her friends in the human world. And Botan was grateful. Grateful for the chance to be around the spirit detectives without some impending threat to one of the three realms. The boys were always fun to hang out with and she truly enjoyed their company even if Yusuke was always cursing or fighting with Kuwabara. And of course Hiei had become more civil to her over these past three years. And Kurama ...
A wistful smile appeared upon the deity's lips, her heart lightening at the mere thought of seeing the red haired man again. Of the four, Kurama was the most considerate and gentlemanly, his behavior protective and sweet whenever they worked on a case for Koenma. He had saved her on so many occasions and shown such great concern for her welfare, the deity couldn't help but wonder if he cared for her above the level of friendship. There were times she could have sworn the kitsune had looked at her with such fondness, her heart skipped a beat. But how could any red blooded woman's heart not skip a beat when gazing upon such perfection.
Kurama was a handsome man. The most handsome man Botan had ever laid eyes on. At first it was a purely physical attraction, an involuntary response to his external features. But as she grew to know him, she saw his heart was more beautiful still. He cared deeply for his friends, giving his all for their welfare without thought to his own life or safety. Selfless. That was her Kurama.
Oh my. Botan thought with a shake of her head as she continued to stare out the window. Where did that come from?
The deity jumped, startled out of her thoughts by the sound of Keiko's voice. "Yes?" She said quickly, turning sideways to look at the brown haired girl.
"I think you have enough water don't you?" Keiko said with an amused smile, pointing to the faucet.
Botan following her motion, letting out a small gasp as she saw water continually overflow the tea pot. The deity snaked out her hand, turning off the faucet and flashing Keiko a sheepish grin as she dumped out the excess water before placing the lid back on and handing the pot to Keiko's outstretched hands. "Sorry about that."
Keiko smiled, accepting the pot. "That's okay." She replied, turning towards the stove. She sat the tea pot on the front right burner and twisted the appropriate knob. A blue flame erupted from the burner, beginning the boiling process while she shifted over to the cup board above the stove and withdrew a tin of cocoa powder. She moved to the cup board by the sink and took out two black coffee mugs, setting them down gently on the marbled countertop, doling out the appropriate amounts of chocolately powder into each mug. "So tell me," She began, turning to face the deity as she stood and waited for the water to reach the boiling point. "Were you thinking about someone just now? A certain red haired man perhaps?"
Botan blushed furiously. How did she know that? Her mind cried as she shook her head. "No." She said a little too quickly.
Keiko wasn't buying it. "A certain red haired man by the name of Kurama?" She continued in a teasing voice, a giggle escaping her throat as Botan's blush deepened to the shade of a tomato. "I knew it!" She exclaimed triumphantly, her eyes twinkling in merriment as she gazed happily at her friend.
"How did you know?" Botan asked in bewilderment. "I could have been thinking about anything?"
Keiko brought her right hand up and shook her index finger. "On the contrary my dear Botan, I recognize that wistful look on your face. It's the same look I express when I think about Yusuke." She explained, lowering her hand.
"But how do you know it was Kurama I was thinking about?" Botan asked, still not believing how perceptive Keiko was.
Keiko gave her a knowing smile. "Well," She began, turning over to the pot that began to whistle, signaling the water was ready. "Yusuke mentioned to me on several occasions that he noticed how very protective Kurama was towards you and how he always seemed to be the one to rescue you in times of danger." She answered, turning off the burner before grabbing the handle, lifting the tea pot. "And he mentioned catching you staring at the kitsune on more than one occasion." She added, pouring the steaming water into each mug before setting the pot back on the stove top.
Botan lowered her eyes. "Am I that obvious?" She asked, not sure she wanted to hear the answer.
"Any girl would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to notice how attractive Kurama is." Keiko said non chalantly as she began to stir the water, mixing the cocoa until it completely dissolved, removing the spoon and tossing it into the sink before turning to hand the deity her cup of cocoa.
Botan accepted the offer, clasping the mug and the handle before bringing it up to her lips and sipping a small amount of the chocolately liquid. "This is good." The deity said with a smile as she lowered the mug once more.
Keiko nodded, taking a sip as well. "Tell me Botan," She said softly, wanting to know something that had been nagging her since they had began to converse. "Does Kurama know how you feel about him?"
Botan's features tightened in pain. "No." She replied softly with a shake of her head.
Keiko frowned. "Why not?"
Botan bit her lip, sadness enveloping her as she spoke. "Why would he be interested in someone like me. There are so many other girls after him that are more beautiful than me."
Keiko shook her head, not believing her friend had such a low opinion of herself. "How can you say that about yourself Botan? You are very beautiful."
Botan gave a small smile. "I thank you but I fail to see it."
Keiko didn't know what to say. How can she think so poorly of herself? She wondered until a sudden realization came to her as she remembered their conversation earlier. No family. No friends to talk to. The loneliness of her job.I> She's never had a chance to experience life or received much praise. The brown haired beauty shook her head in sadness. "You don't give yourself enough credit Botan. " She replied. "And I think Kurama is fully aware of your beauty."
Botan looked at her in disbelief. "You think so?"
Keiko gave her friend a smile, a plan forming in her mind that would prove her theory. "You remember that Christmas party I told you about? The one that takes place at high school tomorrow?"
Botan frowned. "Christmas party?" She murmured, blinking several times in confusion.
Uh oh. Keiko thought with a frown. "The party I told you to bring a nice dress for?" She asked, hoping the jot the deity's memory.
Botan winced in remembrance, smacking her forehead with the palm of her hand. "I totally forgot! I was so excited to come down here I failed to pack it with my regular clothes."
"What am I going to do with you?" Keiko scolded lightly, sitting her mug on the counter as she headed over to closet by the front door.
"Where are we going?" Botan asked, resting her mug besides Keiko's as she watched the brown haired woman open the closet door and draw out a powder blue parka.
"Where else, to get you a dress of course." She said, her voice full of determination as she held it out for the approaching deity to take before pulling out her yellow parka and sliding it quickly on.
Botan slipped on her coat. No sooner had she zipped it did Keiko grab her by the arm, practically dragging her outside and through the snow to her small blue Toyota Corolla.
The two women quickly hopped into the car and slammed the doors shut against the chill of the snow laden air. Keiko jammed the key into the ignition and turned the switch. The car instantly roared to life, blowing a steady stream of air out of the vents on and along the gray hued dashboard. She released her hold on the key, moving over to the windshield wiper switch. With a quick turn, the wipers began to move, scrapping the fluffy white powder off the windshield, allowing Keiko to now see the road ahead of her. The brown haired girl gave Botan a thumbs up before grabbing her seat belt and strapping it across her slender torso.
Botan did the same, smiling as Keiko gave out a cry of, "Downtown Tokyo here we come!" before putting the car in drive and moving onto the road, snow flying off the vehicle as she accelerated slowly forward, allowing for the weather conditions. The deity looked out the passenger side window, her eyes idly watching the swirling snow as her thoughts returned to the kitsune. I wonder what he's doing now? She thought with softened features as the Corolla continued onward towards the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
Downtown Tokyo was a buzz with holiday activities. Buildings were decked out in a vast array of lights and displays, each as elaborate and eye catching as the one before it. All colorful presentations to celebrate Christmas. A chill hung in the air, bringing with it a light snow fall that dusted the busy sidewalks and streets of the metropolitan area. Shoppers littered the merchant districts, endlessly searching for last minute gifts for their friends and loved ones. For a certain red haired fox spirit however, this shopping excursion was slightly different.
Kurama walked amiably along the crowded sidewalk, his breath escaping in even bursts, mixing with the cold air, a light mist of vapor swirling about his face as the lightly falling snow danced around his lean frame. Sharp emerald eyes were alert and watchful, gazing at every building he passed while weaving in and out of the throng of shoppers. He had finished his Christmas shopping earlier in the month. But there was still one gift left to pick up. A gift that would be the last but had truly been the first to be purchased. A gift for the one most precious to his heart. For a woman who had no idea how he truly felt towards her.
"Botan." Kurama murmured with a wistful smile, his features softening as his thoughts manifested themselves in the form of the deity and the times they had shared. The memories as clear as daylight. He remembered the first time he had laid eyes upon her nearly three years ago, his breath stolen from him by the sheer beauty and presence of the blue haired ferry girl. He was struck by how pure her aura was. Pure and beautiful. An angel descended from heaven. A being of light and hope that lifted the grief and melancholy that surrounded him.
Kurama didn't understand at first what was wrong with him. He had never felt such a powerful response to anybody before, his need to protect her, to help her, growing stronger every day. With every mission or hardship they faced, he became more and more worried for her safety and well being. But it wasn't really until the Kaitou incident when Botan's soul had been stolen that his mind truly accepted what his heart had known all along. That he was in love with her and would do anything to keep her safe from harm.
Still, he had never really told her. Held back by the fact they were from different worlds and lived different lives. They were opposites in several ways, he was calm and collected while the deity oozed enthusiasm and pep. But underneath that cheerful and upbeat front she wore, Kurama could sense a deep sadness resonating from her heart and soul. A sadness equal to his own. A pain he hid from the world with a poker face and a reserved attitude. For although he had a mother, step brother and step father whom he loved very much, Kurama felt alone most of the time.
He never truly understood why he should feel so lonely. In his former life, he had little need of friendship bonds. But now, as a human, he felt it necessary to develop friendships and he had done so. Becoming good friends with the other spirit detectives and their families.
Then why do I still feel lonely? Kurama wondered, slowing his pace as he reached his final destination, his emerald orbs glancing at the words, HAIKAREI JEWELERS, spread tastefully in romanji with the corresponding kanji on the window display. Because I am alone. He countered, shaking his head to clear his mind as he reached out and pulled open the glass door. Stepping inside he removed his brown leather gloves and unbuttoned his navy topcoat, revealing an buttoned ecru oxford shirt tucked neatly into the black gabardine trousers he wore. Kurama stomped his black, plain toe oxfords on the welcoming mat, brushing off the bits of snow clinging to the leather material, before walking over to the counter to speak with the salesman who gave him a nod and a friendly smile, his eyes full of recognition as he watched the red haired man approach.
"Good afternoon Mr. Minamino." The aging man with salt and pepper hair greeted politely, shifting his wiry frame to the left, adjusting his navy stripped suit coat to compensate for the movement.
"Good after noon Mr. Haikarei." Kurama greeted back, stopping before the massive glass case that held wedding and couple rings of every imaginable design and metal. "I was informed that the special order I placed two months ago has arrived."
Mr. Haikarei nodded. "It arrived this morning." He replied, studying the young man with kind eyes. "And I'm sure you will be quite pleased with the results." He added, turning and walking towards a large metal door at the far end of the room. With a fluid motion, the older man twisted the knob and pulled, disappearing through the entry way, the door closing slowly but automatically behind him.
Kurama put his arms behind him, pacing slowly down the glass counter, absently glancing at the jewelry in the display case only to stiffen suddenly when he felt two familar chi's enter his senses.
The sound of the door opening caused the kitsune to turn slightly, his eyebrows arching in surprise as he watched two young men enter the store, one excited the other ticked off.
"What the hell are we doing here in a jewelry store Kuwabara?" Yusuke Urameshi growled as he shook the snow off his black parka while stomping his matching hiking boots at the same time.
"I told you before Urameshi, It's Yukina and I's anniversary and I want to give her a nice present." Kazuma Kuwabara replied in annoyance.
"What anniversary?" The dark haired teen replied in a disbelieving tone, "You're not even dating yet!"
"So!" Kuwabara snapped, tapping his blue down parka, mimicking the motions of his best friend. "Just because we're not dating doesn't mean I can't buy her something nice!" The tall man added, the snow flying off his orange tinged hair as he suddenly whipped his head sideways, his eyes widening in surprise. "Hey Kurama! Fancy meeting you here!" The tall man said with a grin, his voice full of cheer as he walked over to the kitsune, a surprised Yusuke in tow.
"Yes. Strange indeed." Kurama replied, bringing his hands back in front of him as he turned to face them.
"So Kurama," Yusuke began, eyeing the red haired kitsune in interest. "What brings you here? Shopping for your sweet heart perhaps?" He asked with a snicker, trying hard to get a rise out of his friend. To his disappointment the kitsune didn't so much as flinch.
"I'm not attached to anyone at this particular moment." Kurama said nonchalantly, although inside he wished he was. And hopefully soon would be. The kitsune's gazed shifted slightly to the left, watching for Mr. Haikarei to return. He didn't want to linger too long in the city. There were other things he had to do. Besides, the last thing I want is for Yusuke and Kuwabara to know I bought a present for Botan. Knowing them, they'd go blabbing about it and ruin the surprise.
"Then why are you in a jewelry store?" Yusuke countered with a sly grin.
Kurama paused, wondering how to answer that when Kuwabara suddenly exclaimed, "I know who you're buying a gift for! It's for Botan isn't it?!"
A flash of shock registered on the kitsune's face which he quickly squashed but not before Yusuke had seen it.
"Well, now isn't that an interesting theory?" Yusuke said with a smirk, noticing how uncomfortable the red haired man seemed to be. "You always were protective and concerned for Botan. Now I know why. You're in love with her aren't you?"
Kurama opened his mouth, about to reply when he noticed Mr. Haikarei re enter the front of the store, a long black velvet jewelry box nestled carefully within his hands.
The older man rounded the corner, coming to a stop at the wedding band counter and placing the box gently onto the glass surface. "Here you are Mr. Minamino." Haikarei said, slowly lifting the lid until it locked in a side position before reaching in and carefully unwrapping the protective red cloth inside.
The three men leaned forward as the salesman gently lifted the object out for all to see.
"Whoa." Yusuke whistled, his brown eyes studying the piece of jewelry in amazement.
"Wow Ku .. I mean Suuichi," Kuwabara started then stopped, correcting himself before continuing. "That's some fancy piece of jewelry."
Kurama smiled. "Indeed." He said softly, his eyes brightening as he studied the silver like chain that hung upon Haikarei's outstretched hands. His gaze shifted to the large, purple stone set within a heart shaped pendent swinging hypnotically before him. Perfect. Just perfect. He thought with a smile. I only hope she likes it.
"As you can see Mr. Minamino," the salesman began, pointing to the chain. "This rope chain necklace is made of the highest grade of platinum. As is the base for the ten carat Ameythst heart cut stone that you ordered. Both of which will never dull, fade or tarnish. It is the best work our company has ever produced." The older man said with a touch of pride in his voice as he lowered the necklace and placed it back within it protective box before handing it to Kurama. "I hope your lady friend approves of your gift." He added, before moving on to help another customer who had just entered the store.
Kurama smiled. "I hope so as well." He murmured, clasping the box gently, turning his gaze back over to Yusuke who spoke.
"How much did that set you back?" He asked, looking at his friend in awe. The spirit detective knew little about jewelry but he knew expensive stuff when he'd seen it.
Kurama gave him a patient smile. "You know Yusuke, it's not a gentlemanly thing to ask people how much they spent on something." He replied in a slight chiding tone which the dark haired man ignored.
"I never said I was a gentleman did I?" He retorted. "So really how much did you spend?"
"Urameshi leave him alone will ya." Kuwabara ordered his friend. "It's not our business. And anyway, I need your help to pick out something for Yukina."
"For crying out loud Kuwabara! You know I hate looking at this sissy crap stuff!"
Kuwabara ignored him, looking down through the glass counter, his eyes brightening slightly as he tapped against the display. "Hey Urameshi, what do you think about those?"
Yusuke looked down, his features darkening in irritation. "Those are wedding bands stupid!" He growled.
"Oh." The big man said in disappointment, moving over to the next case where bracelets both solid and chain were displayed. "Hey what about that? The one with the diamonds on it?" He asked, waving Yusuke over.
The dark haired man sighed but complied, sulking up to his friend and gazing down through the glass at the bracelet his best friend was pointing at. "Yeah it's great." He said in an annoyed tone. "Just buy it and we can go."
"Excuse me," Kuwabara said politely, straightening his frame as he turned to address the saleswoman a short distance away. "May I have a look at this bracelet here?"
The woman nodded, coming over to his side, unlocking the case and removing the jewelry, bringing it out to rest on the glass top. "This is a seven inch tennis bracelet made out of ten carat gold and adorned with one half caret diamonds." She explained as she pointed to the precious gems encased around the flexible metal.
Kuwabara smiled. "How much is it?" He asked.
The tall man paled, falling sideways onto the floor before popping up to his feet a few seconds later. "I can't afford that!" He cried, frowning as he heard Yusuke laugh and slap him on the back.
"I guess you'll have to find something smaller. Like a box of chocolates or something." He said through his chuckle.
"Shut up Urameshi!" Kuwabara replied, glaring at his friend. "At least I'm trying to buy something for the woman I love."
Yusuke's features darkened. "And what the hell makes you think I haven't bought anything for Keiko?" He growled, glaring back.
The two men continued to glare at each other until Kurama's voice broke through, his tone calm and even.
"He'll take it." Kurama said softly, reaching into the inside pocket of his coat to retrieve his wallet.
The saleswoman nodded. "I'll get you a box sir." She said, lifting the bracelet and taking it with her as she knelt down to retrieve a box in the case bottom.
"Hey Kurama?" Kuwabara said, anger replaced with curiosity. "You don't have to do that ya know. I should be the one to pay for it."
Kurama gave him an understanding smile, fully aware of the orange haired teen's honor code. "And who said you won't be." He countered. "I'll simply help you out with the difference. You can pay me back later." He answered, moving over to the register.
Kuwabara nodded. "Well, I guess I can agree to that." He said walking over to the register.
Once the item was purchased, the three men headed out of the store and back onto the busy sidewalk.
"So Kurama, do you have any other Christmas shopping left to do?" Yusuke asked as he walked beside a silent Kuwabara who continued to handle the small bag in his hand, his eyes twinkling in delight.
"No." Kurama answered, his voice distant, his eyes widening in surprise as he felt a familar presence. Could it be? He wondered as he increased the pace
"Hey Kurama slow it down there buddy." Yusuke said with a frown as he started forward, trying to keep up to the faster moving kitsune, while the still euphoric Kuwabara trailed far behind.
"That dress is going to turn every man's head at the party." Keiko said with a smile as she held the door to the dress shop open, allowing Botan to go past her onto the sidewalk before releasing her hold.
"I don't want to turn any man's head." Botan muffled through the package she held tightly against her chest. A large white box that, while light, was awkward to carry and made it nearly impossible to see.
"Oh?" Keiko said with a sly smile. "Are you so sure about that?" She added with a teasing laugh.
Botan blushed. She would like to catch Kurama's attention. But would he even notice? Did he even know she was here in Ningenkai, thinking of him at this very moment? The deity was about to say something when her feet suddenly went out from under her. She gave a cry, the package flying form her hands as she fell backwards towards the hard cement. Botan winced, bracing for impact. But the pain never came. Instead a pair of strong arms wrapped around her, stopping her fall. The deity slowly relaxed her features and opened her eyes. Her amethyst orbs widened in surprise at the face peering down at her. "Kurama?" She murmured.
The kitsune gave her a tender smile that shocked the deity. Rarely had she seen him smile and never like that. And he was smiling at her. The deity noticed how close she had come to hitting the pavement, blushing at the way Kurama was holding her. One arm wrapped around her back and the other around her waist, and he was holding her tightly against him, his face a few inches from her own.
A strange but delightful feeling spread along her body as she relaxed in his embrace. She was enjoying this. Enjoyed the way it felt to be in his arms. She stifled the impulse to reach out an caress his face. To trace his jaw line, to touch his lips with her own. Is this .. what love feels like? Botan wondered. She had never been in love before. Had never been around anyone long enough to get to know them. But that's not true. She countered as she continued to stare up into those mysterious emerald pools that rarely showed much emotion but now seemed to flare with something akin to affection. I know Kurama. I know he cares about me. I know he wants to protect me. The deity's heart began to beat rapidly as her mind tried to process the situation. Is it possible .. he has feelings for me as well?
Kurama had sensed the deity a few minutes prior, utterly surprised to find that she was here in the human world. He had planned on visiting Botan in Reikai to give her the gift he had bought, believing she would be too busy to spend the holidays in Ningenkai. But now, knowing she was nearby, he had to find her. The urge to see her so great, he had forgotten his friends and had tore off in search of his deity.
My deity. Kurama thought with a soft smile as he looked down at the woman in his arms. The woman he had saved from an embarrassing and painful fall. He found himself unwilling to let go. Unwilling to turn away from her gaze. A gaze that spoke of the same feelings running through his heart. Feelings of surprise, delight and affection.
"Why don't you kiss her already and get it over with." An amused masculine voice spoke, breaking the spell between the kitsune and the deity.
Kurama's mask slipped back on, reserved and emotionless as he tilted his head up to find Yusuke standing beside Keiko, a snicker plastered on his face. Reluctantly he loosened his hold, pulling the deity upright to her feet before releasing her, casting his eyes downward for the box that had flew from Botan's grip. Spotting it a few feet away, the kitsune walked over and bent down to retrieve it, returning to the blue haired ferry girl's side a few seconds later. "Here you go Botan." He said evenly, no trace of emotion in his voice.
Botan looked from the neutral features of Kurama to the box, disappointment and hurt flaming her heart. I must have been seeing things again. She said with an inward sigh. Silly of me to think he felt anything towards me at all. "Thank you." She whispered, keeping her eyes cast downward, unable to bring her gaze to meet his.
Kurama noticed her dejected posture and frowned. Stupid Kurama! He berated himself mentally. One minute you look at her with love in your eyes and the next you act like you feel nothing! The kitsune sighed inwardly. He wanted to tell Botan what his heart was feeling at the moment, wanted to show her the truth through his eyes, but he held back. It was a bad habit of his to quickly squash any emotion that bubbled to the surface. He didn't want people to know how he felt about things. Didn't want others to see he had weaknesses. That he wasn't as reserved and cool as he made himself out to be. I'm sorry Botan. he thought sadly even as his voice remained calm. "Are you all right Botan?"
The deity gave a nod, raising her head slowly to flash him a happy smile. "I'm always all right Kurama." She said with a cheerful voice that hid the pain she was feeling at the moment as she hugged the package close to her chest, tilting it to the side so she could see better.
Kurama knew she was lying but said nothing, shifting his gaze over to Yusuke who spoke.
"Lucky for you Botan that Kurama caught you before you smacked your ass on the pavement and broke something." The dark haired man commented only to wince as Keiko smacked him on the arm. "Ow!" He growled, twisting his head to his right to glare at his girlfriend. "What did I do?!" He snapped while rubbing his now throbbing arm.
"It's what you said, not what you did you jerk." Keiko growled back.
The two lovers glared at each other for a few seconds before Yusuke relented, quickly changing the subject.
"So ladies," He began, "What brings you downtown? Shopping for clothes I suppose?"
Keiko stuck her tongue out at him. "So what if we were?" She asked, crossing her arms.
Kurama flashed a small smile, amused at the interaction between the two young lovers.
Botan too, smiled, tickled at the bantering relationship Yusuke and Keiko shared. A wistful sigh escaped her lips. I only wish I had someone of my own to tease. The deity features softened. Someone of my own. She repeated. Someone to love. Like ... Her eyes shifted back over to Kurama who had turned his attention to the right.
The deity followed his gaze, a smile crossing her lips as she saw a rushing Kuwabara approach, breathing heavily, his features twisted in irritation.
"Urameshi! You stupid jerk! What the hell did you run off without me for!" The tall man snapped as he came to a stop to the right of Kurama.
"Can I help it if your slower than my grandma?" Yusuke retorted with a smirk.
Kuwabara frowned. I'll show you who's a grandma. His mind snarled but his features lightened as he noticed Keiko and Botan nearby. "Hey Keiko. Hey Botan. How is it going?"
Botan smiled. "Just fine Kuwabara."
Kuwabara looked from the deity over to the kitsune, a grin forming on his face. So that's why Kurama took off like that. "I see why you guys rushed off, but give me a heads up next time will ya, I hate not being in the loop." He chided his friends, his dark orbs shifting to the box Botan held. "Did you buy yourself a dress Botan?"
The deity looked down to the box for a few seconds then back up to the tall man. "Well, Keiko said I needed a dress for the party tomorrow so we came here to buy one."
"So you're going to the party then?" Yusuke said, a sly smile gracing his handsome face, turning his attention over to Keiko who had nudged him. A conspiratorial look passed between the two before the dark haired man continued. "You know you need an escort to the party don't you?"
The deity's features fell as she looked over to Keiko. "Keiko never mentioned that to me before."
Kuwabara looked at Yusuke in confusion. "Urameshi what are you ... "
The dark haired spirit detective flashed him a "Shut up!" look that instantly silenced the big man, a knowing smile crossing his features as he looked over to Kurama and Botan.
"You need someone to go with you." Yusuke continued. "In your case that would have to be a guy. Am I right about that Keiko?" He asked, looking over to his girlfriend.
Keiko nodded. "I forgot to mention that Botan, sorry."
Kurama frowned as he noticed the crest fallen features of the deity. Apparently this was something she had been looking forward to. The kitsune's heart broke. He wanted her to have fun. To enjoy what time she had here. With a surge of determination, the kitsune spoke. "I would be happy to take you to the party Botan."
The deity's features instantly brightened as she looked over to the red haired man. "Really?" She asked, her voice so full of joy, Kurama couldn't help but smile, joining in her happiness.
"It would be my honor." He said with a nod.
The two stared at each other for a few seconds before Kurama turned to the side, "What time ... " He started then stopped, frowning when he noticed the detectives and Keiko were gone. What the ...
Botan frowned as well, wondering where everyone had gone. "Where'd they go?"
Kurama smirked inwardly. Just a bunch of would be match makers. The kitsune thought as he turned back to the deity. "It seems Keiko has left you in my hands." He said lightly. "Is there somewhere you'd like me to take you? I'd be glad to do so."
Botan turned away from him to hide the blush creeping across her face. Alone with Kurama. Her mind cried happily. Even if it was for only a short time, the deity had no trouble accepting. "Could you take me back to Keiko's?" She asked softly, calming herself as she turned to face him once again.
Kurama nodded and waved a hand in an after you gesture. "Shall we go then?"
The deity smiled and began forward, stopping when she felt Kurama's hand lightly rest on her shoulder. Botan turned, her eyes full of confusion. "Kurama?"
The kitsune smiled and held out his hands. "Allow me to carry that box for you."
Botan smiled in relief, relinquishing her hold on her purchase before turning and starting forward once again, unaware that Kurama was admiring her from behind.
She truly is beautiful. He thought with a smile as he tucked the box under his left arm and followed.
A half hour later, Kurama pulled his red Mazda 6i up to Keiko's suburban home, shutting off the engine. With a fluid motion, Kurama got out of the car and quickly rounded the front to Botan's side, opening the door for her.
"Thank you." Botan said with a smile as she slid out of the car and onto the drive.
"You're welcome." The kitsune replied, shutting the door gently before opening the passenger side back door and quickly retrieving the box from the leathered back seat. Shutting that door, Kurama turned and walked with the deity to the front door of the house.
Botan stopped on the top step, turning to face Kurama who handed her the box.
Botan took the item gently out of his hands, trying hard not to look at him. Afraid she might see the same indifferent look he usually wore only to raise her head in surprise when the kitsune gently clasped her hand.
"Botan?" He said softly.
The ferry girl flinched but didn't pull away from his touch. "Yes Kurama?" She asked in a gentle voice, her features curious as she met his gaze.
"May I ask you a question?"
Botan's heart skipped a beat, wondering what Kurama possibly wanted to ask her. "What is it?"
"How long are you going to be in Ningenkai?"
"Until the end of December." She answered, studying the calm features of Kurama. A sudden a surge of courage swirled within her heart and she found herself asking, "Why do you ask?"
Kurama seemed slightly taken aback by the question, his reserve melting, replaced by a shy look that made the deity want to laugh. "Well ..." He started then stopped, frowning at how inept he sounded. Just tell her already! His mind shouted. Letting his breath out slowly he continued, his voice strong and without pause once again. "I'd liked to spend a little time with you if I could."
Botan stared at him in shock. He .. wants to spend time with me? Her mind cried. Was it possible he thought of her as more than just a friend? "I'd ... Like that very much." The deity replied in a whisper.
Kurama smiled at her. And this time it was an unguarded one. A happy one. "Then I'll see you tomorrow." He said, releasing her hand as he stepped back away from her.
"Yes. Tomorrow." Botan replied and in a bold move, stepped down and gave Kurama a quick peck on the cheek before turning and opening the door.
Kurama looked at her in shock, taken aback by her action. He brought his hand up to his face, resting his palm against his cheek as he watched her disappear inside, giving him a small wave before she shut the door gently behind her.
Kurama stood there for a few seconds, before a grin spread along his lips. Lowering his hand, the kitsune walked slowly back to his car, but his heart was racing at the thought that maybe, just maybe, Botan might love him as much as he loved her.
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