"You hog the covers," Hiei stated.
"You're a fire demon! You don't need covers!"
"I'm more susceptible to the cold without my abilities," he reminded her.
"But even so, your body temperature still runs higher than most. You're like a human furnace!"
He crossed his arms over his chest stubbornly.
"It's the principle of the matter, woman."
"Well, you snore!" she criticized.
"I do not."
"How would you know?"
"Because there's no way you could hear me over the sound of your own snoring, ferry-girl."
Botan's mouth fell open in indignation, hands balled into fists at her sides. She couldn't even remember how this petty argument had erupted, but she had no intentions of letting Hiei be the victor. There had to be something she could use against him, but as she wracked her brain, she could only think of the pros of sharing a bed with the fire demon. Truth be told, it was actually kind of nice having a bedmate. Something about his presence was both comforting and familiar. Plus, the added bonus of a little contact was something that she didn't realize she had craved until now.
And then it hit her.
"Oh!" she said, a devious grin lighting up her amethyst eyes as she pointed at him. "You're a cuddler."
Hiei's proud expression fell as shock ran across his features, causing his eyes to widen slightly. Their habit of waking up in each other's arms was something they had purposely avoided talking about and she knew that she had played dirty by breaching unspoken territory, but she couldn't back down. Not when she had the arrogant man right where she wanted him.
"I don't do anything of the sort," Hiei denied firmly.
"Then why do I wake up tangled up in you every morning?" Botan pried.
Hiei's gaze narrowed.
"Because you are the one who doesn't understand the concept of boundaries," he reproached.
"If that's the case, then why are your arms always around me?"
"Well?" she challenged.
"You know that I'm right. You're just a sweet, mushy, gushy cuddly bear, aren't you?"
"Shut up," he growled as he advanced on her.
"I never would have guessed you were so warm and affectionate, Hiei," she continued to torment him, a feline smirk sharpening her features.
"You're a regular master of cuddling!" she continued, unaware to what he was planning. "Why, you're the prince of-oomph"
The room spun around her and she was suddenly on her back, staring up at a very displeased Hiei. He had managed to pin her down on the couch, the brunt of his weight resting on his forearms and knees as he caged her down between them. Her eyes widened in alarm, and she rolled them up to meet his crimson orbs. All sounds of protests died in her throat and on she immediately regretted whatever decisions she made that led her here.
"Go on," he taunted, his smirk widening. "I thought you were in the middle of saying something?"
"Hn. Cat got your tongue, woman?"
She couldn't concentrate, not when he was so close. It was as though her brain had ceased all coherent thought and all she could do was feel. Feel the weight of his body against hers, feel the firm muscle barely concealed by the thin material of this clothing, feel in the warmth emanating from him in waves and surrender to the tension that crackled and sparked between them.
As her heart began to speed up in that peculiar way again, a hot flush crawled all over her face. She was well aware that Hiei was a man and she was a woman and these things could happen, these tense moments, these sparks, but it had never happened to her before. Not with anyone.
"Hiei…" she said unsurely.
Botan was suspended in the moment, breathless, and unable to move forward. Perhaps he was feeling similar to her, because that smug look had vanished from his features completely. Instead, crimson eyes were clouded and blown black by desire, drawing her in and making it increasingly difficult to look away.
Botan turned her head to see Yusuke, her body tensing in surprise and shock at the sudden and unexpected intrusion.
"Ack, my eyes!" Yusuke exclaimed, throwing his hands over his eyes. "At least warn a guy if you two are gonna start getting freaky!"
Botan squealed, bringing her hand up on Hiei's shoulders in order to push him off of her, but he was immovable.
"We weren't doing anything!" she defended, drawing her gaze back to Hiei's for some backup. He was staring down at her with an intensity that she was not used to and all further protest waned away. No man had ever looked at her like that before, or at least, not to her knowledge.
"You should learn not to enter without permission, detective," Hiei replied finally, as he tore his gaze away from hers. The way his eyes darkened and the reluctance in his movements all indicated that he was more than displeased by the interruption.
Botan blinked over at Hiei in confusion as she sat up on the couch. It was strange that he didn't bother correcting Yusuke, but then again, they were supposed to be pretending to be a couple. If they suddenly started denying everything, Yusuke might get suspicious.
"Yes, Yusuke, you really should learn not to intrude like that," Botan supported.
"I knocked, like, ten times!" Yusuke revealed. "I had to use that key Botan keeps outside because I thought something was wrong."
She felt guilty and ashamed that she had been so wrapped up in the moment that she caused Yusuke to worry.
"Sorry, Yusuke, we were just…"
"Whoa, you don't have to explain or elaborate," he interrupted, hands raised in defense. "I just came to get Hiei."
When both Hiei and Botan stared back at him blankly, he continued.
"We're supposed to go sparring today, aren't we?"
A sideways glance over at Hiei was enough to confirm that he had forgotten. He opened his mouth to respond, but Botan was quicker.
"Oh, that's right, Hiei did mention it earlier," she lied. "We got into a bit of a… um… lover's spat and we lost track of time…"
Yusuke wiggled his eyebrows, a lewd grin on his face.
"I can see that you two were really going at it."
Botan frowned in confusion, but Hiei interrupted.
"Don't be lewd, detective," he admonished. "Besides, you know that she's too much of a prude to understand what you're saying."
Botan glared at the both of them, before folding her arms under her chest and looking away entirely. It wasn't her fault she wasn't a raging pervert like the both of them.
"Anyway, I booked us the private room above the gym, so you better hurry up if you want to actually make it there on time," Yusuke noted. "I'll be waiting in the car."
The echo of the door closing reverberated in her ears and it suddenly felt as though the apartment was much too small and stuffy and hot. When crimson eyes fell on her, her skin began to tingle with the memory of his. She gulped and looked away.
"W-well, you had better hurry up and get out of here. You don't want to be late!" Botan urged, picking up his things from the table and pushing it into his hands. "Here's your wallet and your keys…"
"And your phone," she added, before practically shoving him out of the door. "Toodles!"
Hiei sent her a withering look before he walked down the hallway, muttering something about her under his breath. She closed the door once he was out of sight and placed a hand over her chest.
Well, that was certainly strange.
Hiei smirked when one of his attack connected with the detective's torso. The two were engaged in a fierce and unrelenting flurry of punches, kicks, grabs and throws. It had been far too long since he'd sparred with the detective and it was every bit as challenging and thrilling as he remembered. Yusuke always did things unconventionally and the unpredictability of his movements and actions made him a worthy opponent. He rarely held back and his raw power was just enough to give Hiei a suitable contest.
It felt undeniably good to stretch his muscles again and push himself to the limit. Even more so, after the ferry-girl had riled him up earlier and he was left with an excess of energy that required some sort of release. He wasn't quite sure of what happened between them or what it meant. He had only intended to intimidate the ferry-girl a bit and then back off, but something in the way she stared at him and said his name had captured him, rendering him immobile.
They had done a decent enough job of ignoring the fact hat he was a man with needs, but it appeared to him that she had just realized that the same applied to her, too. He almost wanted to laugh at the thought, but there was nothing funny about their situation. Living in close quarters with her was trying to say the least. Sleeping in the same bed only multiplied his frustrations. He had seen more skin from her within the past few weeks than he had within years of knowing her. They weren't scandalous in the grand scheme of things, but it was enough to stay with him. The flash of her stoned stomach when she reached for something on her toes, a glimpse of cleavage when she bent over, or the expanse of her legs when she had taken to wearing those short shorts to sleep.
There was only so much a man could take.
"Pay attention, lover-boy!" Yusuke's voice taunted.
Hiei returned to the present with barely enough time to manage to dodge Yusuke's attack. He grunted when he was clipped in the jaw, bringing a hand up to rub at the tender skin. If he had gotten hit with the full brunt of Yusuke's attack, he would probably be spitting blood right now.
Refocusing his attentions on the fight, he adjusted his stance and toughened his resolve. This wasn't the time or place for him to be spacing out, so he dismissed all thoughts of the ferry-girl and focused on the fight. Reading the detective's movements and patterns was hard, but Hiei was still fast enough to dodge most of his blows. Never one for taking the offensive, he quickly shifted his style into a full on attack. They continued on until the room was tinted in the orange and red hues of twilight. Yusuke bent over, hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath.
"Have you been sparring without me?" he wheezed, looking up at Hiei skeptically. "You were pulling out moves I've never even seen before!"
"Hn. You've just become weaker."
"Yeah?" Yusuke goaded. "Then what do you call those bruises you've got on you?"
"Nothing but the luck of a fool."
Yusuke grinned cockily, rubbing his index finger under his nose as he stood to full height again. Hiei's arms and legs were heavy with exhaustion as he followed Yusuke into the repugnant smelling locker room, and caught the towel that the detective had thrown his way.
"So, uh, I've been meaning to ask you something..."
Hiei raised a brow, noticing the uneasy way the other man's expression tensed.
"It's embarrassing as shit, but I figured you'd understand," Yusuke continued, seeming to scramble for the right words. "I mean, you always make things look easy with that stoic and unemotional thing you've got going on, so I thought-"
"Get to the point, detective," Hiei urged, not at all wanting to ruin his high with the sound of Yusuke rambling on in circles.
"Truth is, I'm going through something with Keiko, okay?" he revealed. "And I was hoping could give me some pointers, or a game plan, or something."
Hiei was caught off guard temporarily, but he masked it well under a look of mild irritation.
"Wouldn't the oaf be better suited for this?" he questioned, discarding the towel on the bench as he crossed his arms over his chest.
"I'd never hear the end of it if I asked Kuwabara for relationship advice, so you better not mention this to anyone."
"You must have me confused for someone who cares enough to remember what you're about to say, let alone tell it to others."
"You make a good point," Yusuke returned with a slightly anxious laugh. "Anyway, there's this colleague of Keiko's... a really uptight and boring guy named Kaito."
Yusuke rubbed the back of his neck. A gesture that was uncharacteristic for the usually cocky and confident man.
"And I'm not insecure or anything, but he spends a hell of a lot of time with her," Yusuke informed. "Even though she says he's just her colleague, it doesn't help that he's that nerdy, scholarly type that she gets along so well with. I don't want to make a big deal out of it, but it's getting harder and harder to resist the urge to punch that smarmy little bastard's face in every time I see him."
Hn. So the detective was jealous. It was almost satisfying to see the arrogant and boisterous man reduced to a pile of blithering insecurities, but his worries were completely unfounded. It was clear that Yusuke's woman was devoted to him and him alone. If she were interested in the academic type, then she wouldn't have hung around Yusuke's side all these years. The detective had essentially created his own dilemmas by giving into his doubts and uncertainties. He couldn't understand why humans loved to make matters so complicated, but it must have something to do with all those pesky human emotions and feelings muddling up otherwise simple matters. Fortunately for him, that was never an issue.
"So, how do you deal with it?" Yusuke probed. "I figure you'd be an expert at this since you have the same problem with Botan."
His eyes narrowed slightly as he stared back at the other man.
"What are you talking about?" he demanded to know.
"Keiko told me all about that Yugo guy at work. You know, the pretty-boy who has the hots for Botan?"
Hiei's brow furrowed. He had no idea that the woman had an admirer at work. She had often recounted stories of her misadventures at Sakyo Corporation, but he could not recall her ever mentioning someone who was keen on her. He replayed Yusuke's words: 'A pretty boy who has the hots for Botan'… and a flash of a memory returned to him with startling clarity. It had to be that stuffy looking man who had accompanied her out of her office building one night, the one whose eyes lingered on her for too long. Hiei had dismissed it as inconsequential at the time, but he couldn't ignore the baseless agitation rising within his chest.
"We're practically in the same boat, here," Yusuke stated. "But while I'm barely managing to stay afloat, you're well above sea level. So I was wondering: how do you handle it?"
"How do I handle what?"
"How do you handle some other guy working day in and day out with her?" Yusuke explained. "How am I supposed to deal with Keiko and Kaito always talking about stuff that I can't understand and constantly spending time together?"
He stared back at Yusuke, tempering his expression as he fought that dark feeling away. It was entirely beneath him and there was no reason for to become threatened or bothered by some lowly human.
"You trust your woman, detective," Hiei replied evenly.
Yusuke seemed surprised by the advice, brows shooting up as he considered it.
"It's that simple, huh?"
Botan was in the kitchen when she heard Hiei return. She did her best to remain calm and unaffected as she turned to regard him. There was no need to be awkward of strange around him. He was her friend, after all, and no matter what happened, that wouldn't change.
"Did you have a nice time sparring with Yusuke?" she asked.
He grunted by way of reply as he continued towards the room.
"Hiei! You're hurt!" she said, forgetting everything else as she moved to examine the bruised skin on his jaw. It was discolored and would surely swell if he didn't take proper care of it. Her fingers ghosted over his skin lightly and he flinched, but he did not recoil away from her touch.
"This is nothing," he dismissed, his eyes boring into hers.
Right now the light was hitting his eyes in such a way that shifted their shade, causing them to look more ruby than crimson. They drew her in, and she couldn't help but notice other things about him as she examined his face. She followed the shape of his lips with her eyes and memorized the outline of his jaw. It was as though a switch had been flipped and all the things she never noticed about Hiei were being illuminated before her eyes. Her gaze traveled lower, over his neck and past his collarbone, and she stopped at his chest.
She blinked and tore her gaze away, the trance broken as she removed fingertips from his face.
"You should really ice that, you know," Botan advised, taking a step away from him.
"It's fine, woman."
"If you say so," she relented, breaking eye-contact to point over towards the kitchen. "A-anyway, I made some dinner for us. I'll put the finishing touches on everything while you get cleaned up."
Her eyes trailed after him as he entered the bedroom. Hiei didn't bother closing the door as he shirked off his shirt and Botan felt her mouth go dry. She watched the way his muscles flexed and tensed beneath ivory skin and when he moved to remove his pants, she turned around headed towards the kitchen.
She dispelled all unearthly thoughts from her mind as she worked on adorning the rest of the dishes. In the time that it took for her to set everything up and tidy up the kitchen, Hiei had rejoined her.
"Dig in," she insisted.
Hiei followed her command, going straight for the meat first. She watched him intently, anxious to hear what his response would be. Hiei brought his gaze up to meet hers skeptically.
"Did Yukina make this?" he asked upon swallowing.
Botan shook her head excitedly.
"It was all me!" she declared proudly. "It's pretty tasty, huh?"
"It actually is," he confirmed.
Botan smiled excitedly.
"Yukina gave me some tips and pointers and it made all the difference. I hope you've brought your appetite because as you can see, there's a lot more where that came from!"
Her smile widened as he proceeded to taste everything without discretion. His expression was always hard to read, but she could tell that he was enjoying everything.
"I'm impressed woman," he said.
Botan opened her mouth to respond, but Hiei wasn't finished.
"I'll consider it a success if I don't wake up with food poisoning tomorrow."
Her mouth fell open in anger and she picked up a rice grain and threw it at him. He dodged it easily and continued eating with a smirk.
She picked up her chopsticks and dug in as well, deciding that she much preferred the comfortable and easy friendship that had enveloped them now to the heart racing uncertainty that had plagued her earlier. The moment had passed and there was no need to dwell on it, nor was there any sense in blowing it all out of proportion.
Things were fine just the way they were.
Another week had come and gone uneventfully. There was no news on the lizard-demon and the oaf had failed to remember any of his cross-dimensional dreams. Although Hiei had never remained in one place or with one person for very long, he had to admit that it was fairly easy coexisting with the ferry-girl.
"Hiei! Hurry up!" she urged as she barged inside the bathroom.
He was rinsing the soap off of his body leisurely, not seeing the need to rush. He wasn't sure when she became nonchalant over breaking down the boundaries between them, but he didn't mind it much. Besides, the bathroom was thoroughly fogged up and he could hear her shuffling around inside the drawers, meaning that she was facing away from him and couldn't see anything in the first place. They had both been careful not to fall into any more ambiguous situations, like that blasted moment they shared on the couch, and the woman had returned to being comfortable around him in no time. He had done a decent job of curbing his desires and thoughts as well, keeping their relations purely platonic.
"Hiei! Are you listening to me?"
"We won't be late," he told her.
"We will if you continue to take your sweet time!"
"Then leave without me."
"I don't want to!"
He sighed, shutting the water off and fastening the towel around his waist. He pushed the shower curtain aside to glare at her, but the ferry-girl was staring at him wide-eyed and open mouthed. It was clear that she was blindsided by his state of undress and he supposed it wasn't really her fault. The spirit world was filled with ogres and ferry-girls, not exactly grounds for being exposed to the opposite sex. Still, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to call her out on it.
"I didn't peg you as the perverted type, woman."
Her face flushed an interesting shade of scarlet as she gripped the comb in her hand to ground her.
"I'm not - I wasn't-" she tried to explain before huffing and turning around. "Just hurry up!"
He smirked as he watched the blue-haired woman scurry out of the bathroom. By the time he had finished drying himself off and changing into his work clothes, Botan was tying her ponytail.
"Oh, by the way, a bunch of us from work are going out to celebrate. We retained a really important account and Sakyo was very pleased."
"We're going to some lounge that Koto recommended and we were encouraged to bring others…" she informed. "Do you want to join?"
"You know I don't care for such things."
"It could be fun!"
"I highly doubt that."
"I'd rather stay in the quiet of the apartment than out in a crowded establishment full of drunken humans," he maintained.
"Fine," she pouted. "But you're really missing out! Our team is the best~"
As they both exited the bedroom, an unsettling thought occurred to him. If Botan was going out with her coworkers, then a certain blue-haired man was sure to attend.
"…Who else will be there?" he asked.
Botan turned around to face him.
"Let's see... the ones that you're familiar with would be Shizuru, Koto and Juri," she recounted. "And the rest of the team consists of Hinageshi, Tenshi and Yuuto."
Hiei frowned upon hearing her list off that final, irritating name. He didn't like the idea of her going out with a man who clearly had ulterior motives. She was so trusting and entirely oblivious to everything around her that she didn't even notice when Kaisei was being a blatant pervert. There was no telling what she may get herself into if she went to some strange establishment with that Yuuto character.
"And what exactly is a lounge?" he questioned.
"Just a place where you hangout... there's drinks and music... and quite possibly dancing."
"Hn, it sounds horrible," he scoffed.
"I think it sounds wonderful."
"Everything sounds wonderful to you."
She only smiled at him in response and they made their way out of the apartment in silence. It was strange, but a sense of unrest ran through him for the entirety of their commute. Something inside of him refused to let her go alone; especially not when this Yuuto person would be there. It was irrational and unexplainable - this dark and angered feeling that threatened to swallow him whole - but he couldn't find it within himself to care. His instincts had never failed him before and there was no reason to ignore them now.
As they stood in front of Sakyo Corporation, Hiei steeled himself for what he was about to say.
"Even though I'm sure I will come to regret this decision, I will go with you tonight," he stated.
Blue brows rose in surprise as excitement lit up her purple eyes.
"Do you mean it?"
Botan squealed and hugged him tightly, practically crushing him against her chest without any restraint. He stiffened in her arms, trying his best to ignore all the ways that her body was pressed against his as she continued to hug him.
"Oh, you're the best, Hiei!" she exclaimed, releasing him with a wide grin. She practically skipped over to the front entrance in excitement, pausing to turn back and shout out, "You won't regret it, I promise!"
Hiei had the sinking feeling she couldn't have been any more wrong.
Botan smiled when she saw Hiei approach the entrance of the lounge. She knew he would show up, but that didn't stop her from worrying when he took his sweet time getting there. She had told the others to enter without her, insistent on waiting for the fire demon. When he approached her side, she took note of the tense and wary look on his face.
"How was work?" she asked.
"It could have been better," he admitted.
She frowned in concern.
"We'll just stay for a bit. I'm a tired, too," she admitted.
He nodded as they stepped inside. Botan let out a gasp of wonder as she took in the sight of the place. It was dark, but dyed in various shades of shades of blue and purple lights. The bar was adorned with all sorts of colorful drinks housed within glasses of varying shapes and sizes. The seating area was filled with plush lounge chairs and couches, all keeping with the indigo theme. She scanned the crowd of strangers until she found a familiar face.
"Hey, over here!" Hinageshi said, motioning for them to join her.
The girl was seated on a u-shaped couch, with one table in the middle. She entered first, allowing Hiei to take the end.
"Where did Shizuru run off to?" Botan asked.
"With Sakyo, of course."
She twisted in her chair to see Shizuru seated up in the VIP section with a certain well-known, dark-haired tycoon.
"Well, that didn't take long," Botan claimed.
"Room for one more?"
Botan looked up to see Yuuto standing near them, a smile on his face as he regarded them.
"Of course!" Hinageshi said as she moved further inside to allow Yuuto the spot on the end.
"Hiei," Yuuto greeted as he took a seat.
Hiei grunted disinterestedly.
"Antisocial as ever I see," Yuuto noted.
Botan stared at the raven-haired man warningly, not at all understanding why he was being so rude to poor Yuuto. Hiei only rolled his eyes and looked away.
"So guys..." Hinageshi started, trying to dispel the awkward air that had settled over them. "How was everyone's day?"
Botan nudged Hiei again and he bit out a gritted response.
"As for me, it's always a pleasure working with such high spirited and pleasant girls like Hina and Botan," Yuuto replied.
Hiei's expression darkened.
"I thought the point of working was to work and not ogle your coworkers," he accused.
"I simply appreciate the people who help us succeed. Or are you too blinded and arrogant to appreciate the value of what you have by your side?" Yuuto countered.
She heard the familiar start of a growl erupting from deep within Hiei's chest and she looked towards Hinageshi for some sort of help.
"Yuuto, can you help me get some drinks?" the redhead requested.
"Someone will be here shortly to take our order," he told her.
"I know, but I need to stretch my legs anyway. So what do you say?" she pressed.
"If you inisist," he relented, taking a stand and allowing Hinageshi to lead the way.
"Let's get the most expensive drinks since Sakyo's paying!" Hinageshi suggested as they disappeared within the crowd.
Once they were out of earshot, Botan turned towards the fire-demon who was too busy glaring out into the distance.
"What was all that about?" she asked, sorely unimpressed by Hiei's bad attitude.
"What was what about?" he snapped.
"That passive aggressive argument you two were having," she yelled over the music.
"Ask that pompous, self-important fool. He's the one who started it."
He crossed his arms over his chest stubbornly. The lounge was dark with colorful lights passing over them every once in a while, allowing her to see his expression clearly. As an azure beam of light illuminated his face, she was able to see the scowl etched into his features clearly. Not only was he undoubtedly exhausted from a hard day at work, he was also angry and he stuck out like a sore thumb. She felt her own indignation drain almost immediately and she took a deep breath to calm herself.
"I'm sorry," she said suddenly.
The anger in his features lessened as he looked over at her.
"Why are you sorry?"
"I keep dragging you out to places and making you do things you don't like. It isn't fair to you at all..."
"There's no need for you to apologize," he replied tightly. "It's that bastard Yuro who's to blame."
"It's Yuuto," she corrected softly. "And I'm little shocked by his behavior. He's normally such a nice guy."
"He's nice to you for a very specific reason, woman," Hiei spat.
Botan raised a brow.
"What do you mean?"
"He's interested in you, and not as a friend or a coworker. He wants you to be his."
Botan's mouth fell open in surprise, a strangled noise making its way out of her lips. This wasn't the first time she was made aware of Yuuto's affections for her. Even if she found it difficult to wrap her brain around, at some point, she knew that she had to come to terms with it. And if someone as emotionally stunted as Hiei could see what everyone else had, then surely it had to be true.
"Shizuru mentioned something about it… but I found it hard to believe."
"It's pitifully obvious."
"How can you tell?"
"How can you not?" he shot back.
"I don't know," she admitted, before looking back at Hiei in uncertainty. "What am I supposed to do?"
"You shouldn't be so friendly with him," he discouraged. "It only spurs him on."
"But I can't just be mean to him out of the blue and without good reason!"
"I know, and that is part of the problem."
"Are you saying that this is all my fault?" she asked incredulously.
"No, he is the one who misread your kindness."
She sighed miserably.
"I suppose I will just have to do a better job at establishing boundaries and making my feelings absolutely clear."
"He appears to be the annoyingly persistent type," Hiei noted.
"Well, he'll have to give up eventually," she remarked. "This world's Botan is already taken."
"Oh," Botan said suddenly, as a realization dawned upon her. "Is that why you were rude to him earlier? Because he likes me?"
"Don't flatter yourself," Hiei denied tightly. "I'm not so insecure as to feel threatened by someone like him."
"I didn't think you were!" she defended. "You're angry because you don't want the other Hiei's reputation ruined, right?"
Hiei's brow twitched ever so slightly as he stared back at her. He seemed at a loss for words and she didn't know why. She thought she had hit the nail on the head with her assumption, but the way Hiei was staring at her made her feel like she had missed the point completely. Eventually, his features smoothened out into its normal look of indifference. He nodded firmly, averting his gaze as he spoke.
"I don't like looking like a fool, woman."
Hinageshi and Yuuto suddenly returned, with Tenshi in tow. Tenshi was practically bouncing out of his skin excitedly, appearing to be a little more than tipsy as he regarded them.
"Koto's challenging people to drinking contests," he informed. "Let's root against her."
"Yeah, hopefully we can finally see her humiliated and completely crushed!" Hinageshi proclaimed.
"Hinageshi!" Botan admonished.
"This would be an opportunity too fruitful to pass up…" Yuuto supported.
"Oh fine!" Botan said, grabbing a hold of Hiei's hand, giving him no choice but to follow after her.
They spotted the woman in question standing on the bar stool, with her hands on her hips as she scanned the crowd of strangers and coworkers that had amassed near the bar. The woman already seemed to be a few drinks in, her cheeks flushed and teal eyes slightly unfocused.
"I swear, that woman loves nothing more than all eyes on her and the sound of her own voice," Botan muttered to Hinageshi.
"Uh-huh!" the redhead agreed.
They watched her make a spectacle out of herself, before her eyes landed on Botan.
"You!" she said, singling Botan out.
"Me?" Botan pointed to herself.
"Yeah, blue. You're my lucky victim."
"O-oh, I couldn't," she said, raising her hands up in defense.
"Scared of a little friendly competition?" the woman taunted, raising a slender brow.
"Hardly! I just don't see the point in-"
"Sounds like nothing but excuses to me!"
Botan frowned and moved to advance, but Hiei pulled her back, his grip tightening around her hand.
"Don't be foolish. You have nothing to prove," he told her.
"Koto's been a horrible menace all week!" Botan divulged. "Someone's got to put her in her place!"
"And how will you do that with your undoubtedly low tolerance?" Hiei pointed out.
She faltered momentarily, her gaze falling to the dark tiled floor.
"I don't know, but I'll figure it out!" she declared boldly as she met his eyes again. "My pride is on the line here, Hiei!"
Hiei held her gaze for a moment longer, before he released her.
"If you're really going to challenge her, then you have to do it right," he said.
"Don't sip at the drinks daintily like you're so accustomed to doing," he instructed. "Tip your head back and swallow the shot in one go."
Botan nodded, standing up a little straighter as she committed his instructions to memory.
"If you make the mistake of stopping to consider its taste, you will end up gagging."
"Don't think and don't hesitate, either. Just drink."
"And one more thing," he added. "If your pride is on the line, then you can't afford to lose. Make sure you win, ferry-girl."
Botan's heart swelled with warmth and she nodded at him. If Hiei bothered enough to give her tips, then maybe he thought she had a fighting chance. And if he believed in her, then maybe she really could do this! She took a deep breath and meandered through the mass of bodies that blocked her way to the bar. As she took up residence on the empty stool beside Koto, she forced herself to sit tall and proud, despite the ringing in her ears and the reverberations of her heart beating wildly against her chest.
"Alright, bartender, line 'em up!" Koto ordered loudly.
"Anything you two fancy in particular?" the ruggedly handsome blonde-haired man behind the bar inquired.
"Surprise us," Koto answered, waving her hand dismissively before Botan could get a word in.
He pulled a dark bottle of liquor out from underneath he bar and began filling the little shot glasses dutifully. Botan watched the amber liquid rise in the first glass warily; its scent was toxic and nearly nauseating. She didn't usually indulge in drinking - save that one time Jorge had found a stash of sake hidden in the archives and they all got curious - but she didn't want to lose to Koto.
She could feel the eyes of everyone in the crowd boring into her and chipping away at her false bravado. She tapped her fingers against the bar nervously as she tried to gather what little wits she had left.
"Good luck, Botan!" Hinageshi cheered, patting her on the back.
"Thanks..." she replied, forcing a tight smile over her features.
Yuuto was smiling at her encouragingly and Tenshi was telling her to give it her all. She glanced over at Hiei, who simply stared back at her silently. He was always firm and unyielding under pressure and the quiet strength that exuded from his aura was almost contagious. He nodded at her pointedly, the gesture more effective than any words he could have spoken and she found her courage renewed as she faced the bar again.
"Having second thoughts?" Koto mocked, pulling her from her thoughts.
"No, but you will be once this is over."
"First one to finish all six shots wins," Juri announced. "If either of you can't hack it, then the one who consumes the most wins."
"Fair enough," Botan replied.
"Sounds good to me," Koto returned.
"Alright, are you ladies ready?" Juri asked, looking down at both contenders. They nodded their assent and Juri smiled as she raised an arm. "Okay! Then let the drinking contest begin!"
Botan wasted no time throwing back her first drink. Though she tried to swallow it down perfunctorily, she couldn't help but wince in disgust as the liquid passed over her tongue. The taste was absolutely horrid and it burned down her throat uncomfortably.
"What the hell is this?" Koto exclaimed, her features twisted into a look of displeasure as she glared at the bartender.
"It's the good stuff," he replied with an impish grin.
Koto let out a sound of frustration, before lifting her second glass up determinedly. Botan followed suit, pinching her nose with her thumb and forefinger as she downed another drink. She could hear the shouts of everyone ringing in her ears as the potent drink traveled down her throat and warmed her from the inside out. It was so disgusting, but its effect was almost immediate. She was already starting to feel a bit unlike herself, skin buzzing with excitement and mood bursting with a newfound joy. She felt as though she could fly without her oar or defeat a hundred Toguros. Perhaps this is what liquid courage did to you, she thought as she reached for another glass. With the cheers of her friends spurring her on, the colorful lights dancing in her eyes and the liquor coursing through her system, she was able to do exactly as Hiei told her to, making quick work of shot after shot with only the goal of victory in mind. As she closed her hand around her last drink, she noticed Koto lurch forward onto the bar.
Botan frowned in concern, but Hinageshi was grinning deviously.
"Are you giving up?" the redhead asked teasingly.
Koto didn't bother responding, instead choosing to let out a moan as she jumped out of her chair and skittered off towards the bathroom. Botan looked back at the bar, realizing that she and Koto both only had one drink left.
"If you finish this last one, then you win!" Hinageshi urged excitedly.
A stretch passed over her lips as she brought the glass to her lips. She tipped her head back and swallowed it one gulp, the crowd erupted into a series of cheers and hollers as she slapped the shot glass down on the bar.
"And there you have it folks! The winner of this drinking contest is: Botan!" Juri managed to announce over the sound of the music and their friends gathered around them.
Botan let out a victory cheer, nearly falling over in the process. As she hopped off of the stool and landed on two shaky feet, she couldn't help but wonder why the entire room felt off-kilter. Her knees buckled and she crashed into something warm and firm. Hiei was there, holding her up in that dependable way of his, giving her the stability she needed. She let herself fall into him, smiling brightly.
"I did it!" she cheered.
"You did," he acknowledged.
"I couldn't have done it without you, Hiei."
Hiei shook his head.
"It was all you, woman."
A brief moment of silence passed over them until Botan tilted her head in confusion.
"…Why are there two of you all of a sudden?" she questioned, before letting out a gasp. "Do you have another twin that you were keeping a secret from all of us again?"
"No, you're just hammered, woman," he informed.
Although Hiei sighed deeply, she couldn't find it within herself to be too concerned over her current state.
Hiei was with her after all; things always turned out all right when he was around.
Hiei had somehow managed to make it back to the apartment with the intoxicated ferry-girl in tow. All throughout their travels, she continued to utter strange, incomprehensible nonsense and she giggled and snorted at things that weren't funny in the slightest bit. After locking the door behind him, he faced her again. She was staring at him through half-lidded eyes, her pupils dilated and lips slightly upturned in mischief. He had seen that look on many women before, but never on the ferry-girl.
"You're so sexy," Botan slurred.
Hiei's brain might as well have short-circuited but he managed to let out a strained: "What?"
"I've always thought you were."
"Woman-" he warned.
"Oh, but I've never had the courage to tell you that before…" she said, throwing a dainty hand over her mouth.
"Stop talking," he urged through gritted teeth.
"Yes, I suppose the time for talking has passed."
The look in her eyes changed and he found himself taking a retreating step. While he normally found it extremely difficult to understand the way the woman's brain worked, he was absolutely certain of what was on her mind right now and though the offer was tempting, this was a line that they couldn't cross. After a few more steps, his back hit the wall with a thump and he was suddenly laden with a handful of intoxicated ferry-girl.
"Mm, you really are like a human furnace," she said breathily.
He should have pushed her away, but she was even clumsier in this state and he didn't want to risk it. As his hands gripped at her waist, intent on keeping her as far away from him as he could, she swooped in for a kiss. Lips puckered, she sorely misjudged her trajectory and her mouth landed on his neck instead. He began to wonder if that was her intention all along because she started placing fluttering kisses wherever she could and her hands – which had been resting on his chest - suddenly started to slide lower and lower. He stifled a groan when she reached the waistband of his pants and he quickly grabbed both of her wrists in his hands.
"That's enough," he ordered firmly, giving her a hard look.
Botan's look of surprise quickly delved into one of amusement as she smiled lazily.
"Oh, Hiei, ever the gentleman," she teased.
He narrowed his eyes at her and Botan giggled in response.
"This isn't funny, woman," he growled.
"Loosen up, Hiei! Enjoy the moment!"
If this had happened under different circumstances, perhaps he would have taken her up on her offer. It had been far too long since he'd been with a woman, but she was no ordinary woman. Not to him. That's why he couldn't allow himself to do what he really wanted to.
"No," he declined again. "You need to stop this now, ferry-girl."
Perhaps the harshness in his tone or the unforgiving rigidity of his expression had gotten through to her, because the ferry-girl stopped all of her advances and nodded her head. He released her hands and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Are you hungry?" he asked.
She shook her head in confusion.
She shook her head again.
"Good. Then change into those silly pajamas of yours and go to sleep."
"But I'm not tired," she protested, jutting her bottom lip out.
"I don't care."
"You're no fun, Hiei!" she whined.
"And you're too much fun, apparently," he muttered as he ushered her into the bedroom.
She took a seat at the edge of the bed, humming some upbeat tune to herself while he rummaged through her dresser drawers in search of something suitable for her to wear. Eventually he settled on a mismatching shirt and pants and pushed the articles of clothing into her hands.
"Put these on and then do whatever it is you love doing on that phone of yours until you fall asleep," he ordered.
She blinked down at the clothes and made a displeased face at his choice of sleepwear, but Hiei didn't much care about fashion. All he wanted to do was make it through this night without losing his sanity.
"Alright," she agreed compliantly.
He let out a quiet sigh of relief, tension draining from his shoulders as he moved to retrieve his pillow from his side of the bed.
"Where are you going?" she inquired curiously, head titled and eyes wide as she watched him walk towards the door.
"I'm taking the couch tonight," he replied.
Hiei paused, his hand on the doorknob as he glanced back at her.
"To prevent us both from doing something we will regret in the morning," he answered honestly.
As he stared up at the ceiling later that night, he was only sure of one thing: The ferry-girl would surely be the death of him.
The next morning Botan stumbled out of the bedroom with a massive headache. She rubbed at her temples as she looked down at her pink top and blue bottoms. She couldn't remember coming home or going to bed and she certainly couldn't remember changing into this mismatching outfit. She couldn't remember much else other than the fact that they went out to the lounge last night. As she stepped into the living room, she found Hiei already up and awake. He was staring at her stoically, but there was a glint of something wicked in his crimson eyes.
"Tell me, woman," he began, crossing his arms over his chest. "For how long have you been lusting after me?"
"I-I don't know what you mean…"
"You said many interesting things last night."
"I... erm... uh..."
"Hn, I wonder which is more embarrassing for you: the fact that you've always found me attractive or the fact that you're not as prudish as you claim to be."
Her entire face flushed, blood rushing to her cheeks and coloring the tips of her ears. She remembered it now! She had gotten caught up in some silly drinking game with Koto and had consumed more than she could handle. The one time she had gotten drunk with the ogres and ferry-girls, she was told that she had gotten very touchy-feely, and as she wracked her brain for memories of last night, she realized that her friends over in the spirit world weren't just pulling her leg.
"Hiei... you have to know that I wasn't myself last night..." she tried to explain, as humiliation coursed through her entire being.
"It seems to me that you dropped the innocent ferry-girl act and finally let your true colors show."
"That's... I wasn't..." she shook her head.
He smirked evilly and she crossed her arms over her chest when she realized what he was doing.
"It isn't nice to tease!" she berated.
"Ironic that you would say that," he muttered under his breath.
She thought of how desperate and pathetic she must have looked last night and let out a moan, before burying her face in her hands.
"Oh, I'm so embarrassed..."
"You should be."
"I made such a fool out of myself!" she whined into her palms.
"We should have just stayed in like you wanted to," she continued miserably.
"Hn. Remember that next time you insist on dragging me out."
She pulled her hands away and peered over at him in contemplation. It was clear that while she had been out of her mind yesterday, Hiei was the poor soul who was burdened with the task of getting her home. It couldn't have been easy on him – especially with the way she had been action – but she was glad that the night ended without much trouble.
"Thanks for all of your help yesterday," she sheepishly.
"You managed to get us home unscathed," she continued.
"It was nothing."
"And you even slept on the couch like a gentleman."
"You gave me little to no choice."
"What do you mean?"
"You were all over me," he reminded her.
"Oh," she said quietly. If she could go back and erase the events of last night, she would. The downright embarrassing and wanton way she acted with Hiei wasn't worth the small victory she gained over Koto at all. She let out a small groan, throwing her hands over her face again.
"Relax, woman. I know that your actions were a direct result of your intoxication," Hiei stated.
"I know that you didn't mean any of the things you did or said," he clarified. "If I had been the fox or anyone else, you would have responded the same."
She pressed her lips together, trying her best to remain unaffected by his words. The truth of the matter was that she had always found him attractive in a dark and mysterious light and the alcohol served as a catalyst in bringing the truth to the surface in the most humiliating and obnoxious manner. When she pulled her hands away from her face, she realized that Hiei was still staring back at her, waiting for her to confirm his claims.
Botan nodded hurriedly.
"Right," she lied. "Yes. That's absolutely true."
Hiei appeared to be satisfied with her answer, as though he had been expecting it all along, but Botan couldn't help but feel unsettled by it. He usually saw right through her lies, but this time, he seemed to accept her words as truth. Perhaps he really believed that there was no way that she could ever see him in that way, and the thought made her heart sink in her chest. He was always discrediting himself when it came to his qualities that lie beyond the realms of fighting, and she wondered what it would take to get him to realize that he was so more than just a warrior. He was a devout ally, always there to save the day in a pinch. He was a great friend in his own, roundabout way. And he was pretty cute to boot.
"You know..." she began, wringing her hands nervously as the words spilled out unfiltered. "I really have always thought you were attractive."
Hiei's eyes widened a fraction before narrowing into a glare.
"Are you still drunk?" he asked, gaze skeptical and tone full of doubt.
"No, silly!" she replied with a warm smile. "I may have acted like a complete fool last night, but what I said about finding you handsome was the honest truth."
He seemed to be completely and utterly confused, his features frozen stiff as his mind reeled with the knowledge. Eventually, he found the words to respond.
"…Why would you tell me that?" he asked carefully.
"I don't know," she confessed honestly. "I just thought it was fair that you knew the truth."
She held his gaze for a few seconds longer, before looking away. In the silence that ensued, her cheeks heated up and the familiar feeling of embarrassment crept up on her.
"Well… I'm just going to… yeah…" she trailed off as she turned on her heels and made a beeline for the kitchen.
Pulling open the cupboard door, she stuck her head inside, suddenly interested in whatever foodstuff they had stocked away in the pantry. She could still feel Hiei's eyes on hers and she was seriously regretting her decision to tell him the truth. He was most likely going to hold it over her head and use it against her in some sort of way.
He approached her from behind and she tensed involuntarily, preparing for the scathing remark that was sure to come in 3, 2, 1…
"I already bought breakfast," Hiei revealed.
Botan turned to face him, her eyes wide in surprise. Following his averted gaze, she spotted a breakfast sandwich on the kitchen counter. There was a bottle of pills conveniently sitting there, too.
"Hiei..." she breathed out, looking back at him in gratitude.
"Eat before it gets cold," he instructed lowly.
"Okay," she nodded.
She took a seat near the counter, ignoring the warmth that blossomed in her chest when Hiei joined her for no reason other than because he wanted to.
It was strange, but when they shared quiet moments together like this, the fear of never returning home ebbed away. Here, in this moment, she felt like she was home.
And there you have it! Another chapter down~
I hope you guys liked this one, because I sure had fun writing it. Thank you for your wonderful and kind reviews. You guys are the best! Please drop a note and let me know your thoughts on this one as well!