When you say you love me

The world goes still, so still inside and

When you say you love me

For a moment, there's no one else alive

-Josh Groban, When You Say You Love Me

~*~*~*~*~ Chapter 24 ~*~*~*~*~

The world was quiet. The cars in the streets uttered not a peep as they zipped by going to God knows where. Happy park goers and folks striding down the street at a brisk pace to their next appointment all were hushed and spoke only in whispers. Whispers that were spoken with the softest and most clandestine voice that it could scarcely be heard even by the speaker. Ears were red with strain as they futilely searched for sound and traces of the once busy street that had ran between the park and the apartment building. But alas that all the hustle and bustle outside Botan's shut window would so suddenly be quieted, for it was all that kept the bed ridden girl from sinking into the darkening depths of boredom.

Her magenta eyes had long ago glazed with an overpowering film of sleep and the gentle lull of her own breathing threatened to pull her into unconsciousness. Every time her eyelids sank lower and lower until only a tiny ray of light could slip through, she'd gasp to break the rhythm of breath and her eyelids would snap open. And if only for a moment, her mind would reach full wakefulness before slipping back once again. It was only a matter of time before she succumbs to sleep but as long as she could muster she'd fight its draw. She had to stay awake.

It was not only sleep that weighted her eyelids, but also her sickness. Though most of the symptoms had ebbed it still daunted her daily and kept her from arising from her bed.

It'd been nearly a week since Kurama had rescued her from the frozen northern realms of the Makai. She still relished the delightful memory of Kurama's strong arms carrying her away and back to the safety of the human world. He'd at once noticed her fever and the very strong cough she'd been experiencing. So, with great haste he brought her to a doctor. From the moment that the doctor recommended she stay in bed to now she'd done nothing else but stare at the ceiling and read magazines. But magazines were in short supply and she'd already read all of them from cover to cover.

So there was nothing left to do but stare at the ceiling and wait patiently until twelve noon. If she could just stay awake for the few more minutes it would take for the clock to strike twelve. That's all she needed to do. The second hand moved slowly around the clock face. Ticking away time, slowly all too slowly. Anticipation tightened her stomach.

He'd be here any moment.

Any moment. She'd only have to wait. But how cruel the clock was! Each tick of the clock seemed to last an eternity! Echoing throughout her mind like a voice in a cave.

The echo ended at the sound of the mechanisms of the door's lock slowly being turned. Soon the sound of the door itself being slowly opened found it's way to the impatient deity's ears. With a gasp of elation she closed her eyes and pretended to sleep.

She only needed to pretend for a few minutes for soon she heard the creaking of her bedroom door and the sound of footstep upon the carpet.

Kurama gazed about the room for a moment. It hadn't changed in the least, albeit there were quit a bit more tissue scattered on the ground then there had been yesterday. He made a mental note to pick them up before he left.

With a smile he set the tray he was holding on the bed stand and sat down in a chair (not before brushing the crumpled tissue off.) There was a brief moment where all he did was gaze at the "sleeping" Botan. She looked absolutely breath taking. Her blue hair was disheveled and her face was a horrible, pasty white from lack of sun but her face and hair was not what made her beautiful. She could have been missing a nose and Kurama would still say she was the most beautiful creature in the world, and even though she looked absolutely glorious while she was sleeping he missed the warm gaze of her amethyst eyes.

He gently shook Botan's shoulder in order to rouse her. The deity's eyes snapped immediately opened and her eyes fell upon Kurama almost a split second after.

"Kurama-kun!" She said sitting up and propping up her pillows so she could have something to lean against. "How's my other sick friend? Looking better I see." Botan added, feigning disdaining.

"Well, I wasn't out in the cold near as long as you," Kurama said matter-of-factly.

"Lucky stiff. You have no idea how horrible it is to be bed ridden for a week!"

"I brought you soup." He gestured toward the tray.

Botan immediately perked up, "Oh! Is it chicken noodle?"

"Of course."

Kurama lifted the tray and replaced it on Botan's lap. The deity wasted no time in grabbing a spoonful of yellowish broth and devouring it hungrily. She then picked up the cup also sitting on the tray and swigged. After she'd gulped down a good portion of its contents she withdrew the cup and looked at it quizzically.

"That's not Orange Juice."

"No, it's EggNog. It's supposed to be some sort of Christmas drink."

"Oh," and then after a minute's scrutiny added, "Not bad."

The fox-demon smiled. When Botan had finished off her lunch he put the tray back on the bed stand.

"You know...I missed New Year."

He blinked in surprise at Botan's abrupt statement. But nodded in agreement.

Botan looked out the wind sadly. "And after I get better I have to straight back to Rekai. I won't even get to build a snowman."

"A snowman?" She nodded.

"Huh-huh. I try to build one every year."

Kurama smiled. He didn't quite know why but he admired Botan for wanting to build a snowman. Something he just couldn't put his finger on, but it affirmed his love for her. As he looked at her smiling face he understood that truly that he had chosen the best woman to fall in love with.

"Well, if you can't get off of work before winter ends I'll take you to the beach and we can build a sandman."

"Sorry, we can't do that." Kurama was taken aback.

"Why not?"

She shook her head in away that showed him she was teasing. "Because, you don't build sandmen you build sandcastles."

After a second of staring blankly at hr, he chuckled, "Alright then, we'll build a sandcastle."

Botan gave a cry of we of delight and hugged him ecstatically, "Oh! That'd be fantastic! Thank you!"

The kitsune smiled before pulling away from her, "I have a gift for you. Be back in a moment."

The girl blinked in surprise. A gift....?

Moments later Kurama returned holding something under his arm. Botan craned her neck to see what it was, practically boiling over with anticipation. When he sat back down she did mange to get a fairly good look at it. It seemed to be....A book?

He held it out to her and the deity gasped with surprise. She took it from him and handled it so delicately that it seemed she thought that if she dropped it the precious item would shatter.

"Oh, Kurama....It's beautiful."

It was a book. But not one that was meant to be read. But one that was meant to be written in. A diary, the edges of the pages painted gold. The cover was perhaps the most exquisite thing she'd ever seen. A rose, gilded in gold, was pictured on the cover it's petals open and shimmering. She didn't know much about ningen money but she could tell it was very expensive.

She went to open the diary but she found it would not. The covers were stubbornly fastened together by a latch. The latch and a small oddly shaped hole obviously meant for the key.

Kurama smiled at her obvious amazement of his gift. He wouldn't, of course, tell her but it had cost a good chunk of his paycheck. The diary had been custom made.

"I though you'd be a little bored lying here all day."

"It won't open!"

"The peony necklace was meant to be the key." Kurama said smugly. Botan gave a cry of despair.

"What is it?" He said with a worried look about him.

"I lost the necklace!"

Kurama blinked in surprise. After a few moments of staring at her blankly realization dawned on him. "Oh! Did I never give it back to you?"

"What?"

He chuckled. "I suppose not. I found it on Hakuma while looking for the key to your cell." Still laughing at his forgetfulness he went searching through his pockets and retrieved the small, yet treasured, trinket from the front pocket of his trousers.

Immediately her frown was turned upside down. She snatched the necklace from Kurama's hand but not before hugging him. "Oh, Kurama! You're the best! I was so said when I'd lost it! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

Withdrawing her arms she immediately set to work on undoing the lock on her new diary.

It took nearly all of Kurama's cool composure and iron will to refrain from breaking out into the widest small that was ever allowed to grace his handsome face. He was the best. She though he was the best. Though, he already knew she was in love with him but it launched him into the clouds to hear her say that. It was strange...It was as if all he wanted was for her to be happy. He'd never felt that way before. As he watched her flip carefully through the pages of her diary seeing that joy spread across her beautiful features was all he needed. Seeing her smile made him happier then anything he'd ever known.

As he watched her smile like that he wondered why he'd put off telling her for so long. He had nothing to fear after all. He knew she loved him. He didn't have to worry about rejection. As he withdrew farther and farther into the endless sea that was his thoughts his answer was evident. He wanted the confession to be perfect. Every aspect of it was like a fairy tale. He just had to wait for the opportune moment. And that was not when she was sick in bed.

Botan's angelic voice penetrated the confines of his thoughts and brought him crashing to the present.

"Thank you so much, Kurama. I can't tell you how happy I am to finally have something to do! I was about bored to death!"

"That's not all of your present."

Botan was taken aback. There was more?

Kurama once again went digging through his pockets. He handed her the object that he had recovered.

The minute Botan saw what it was she burst out laugh. "A light blue gel pen!"

"Exactly why the pages are black."

Botan grinned. "Thank you."

~*~*~*~*~

As agreed after she felt well enough to get out of bed she went directly back to Koenma. Packing all her worldly items she said her farewells to all her friends. She nearly burst into tears as she hugged Kurama good bye. With a watery smile she mounted her broom and left for the Rekai.

And that was how she ended up here, staring blankly at Koenma's empty desk and cursing the Rekai prince and the blasted obligation he had bestowed upon her. If he was going to rip her away from everything she knew and loved he could have at least have the decency to be on time! Stupid, stupid toddler! She ought to ring her scrawny little neck!

Out of boredom she scrutinized the objects the prince kept on his desk. Sure it was snooping but the inconsiderate twit deserved it! Let's see now....

An emergency pacifier, no surprise there. Whenever the little lord became in rage he chewed his pacifier to the point they became useless. A large stack of paper, once again no real surprise. What else? Half-eaten muffin, a couple pens, post-it notes, lollipops (What a pig!), a stress ball and....A picture? That's new. She'd never seen it before.

Interested she picked up the photograph. She nearly gasped at what she saw. It was her respected boss in his teenaged form. But he wasn't alone in the photograph, oh no. A woman was with him. After further inspection of the scene she clapped her hands together excitedly. Oh! Koenma-sama finally found himself a little romance! How sweet! Maybe that's why he's so late...Being the hopeless romantic she was fancies of moonlit meetings and passes in the corridor danced through her head. But she didn't have long to entertain any notion of her boss's private life because her ears were met with the sound of a door opening.

Panicking, she set the picture down on the desk top where she had found it and positioned herself so it looked as though she'd been standing in front of his desk at attention the entire time.

"Good morning, Koenma-sama." Said Botan wondering where exactly where the hushed romance had taken place.

"Good morning, Botan." Said the teenaged Rekai lord in a singsong voice. Botan smiled knowingly. Perhaps she'd been right about the romance.

"Reporting for duty." He's in his teenaged form. I must be right!

Koenma had to think a moment before answering, "Ah yes! Your belated report" He made the journey to his desk, all the while humming.

As he sat down, Botan launched into the report she'd prepared. But as she spoke she couldn't help but notice Koenma's dreamy look. She soon came to realize he wasn't paying attention to her in the least! He'd been staring at the photograph the entire time!

Seeing a chance to satisfy her theories she asked, "Who's the woman in the picture, Sir?"

"Hmmm?"

"The one you've been staring at," it only slightly sounded like gloating.

"Oh...." It was as though Koenma's attention had been hanging by a thread. A thread, which frayed away with the stress of weight with one last strain, snapped. "Oh!"

His eyes lost their glaze as he came crashing into reality. "She's uh....She's...." He cleared is throat and looked at Botan. "Say, Botan, I just realized something."

Trying to steer away from the subject. Oh! It's definitely love!

"You did have much of a vacation, did you? First you get kidnapped then you come down with pneumonia! Hardly seems fair, does it?"

Botan felt as though she'd burst. Was he doing what she thought (and desperately hoped) he was doing?

"So, I've decided to give you and extra week's vacation. Since I'm such a benevolent leader." He added as an after thought.

Botan did burst. All her glee and utter joy came bursting out of her like a whirlwind. "OH! THANK YOU, KOENMA-SAMA! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU SO MUCH! YOU WON'T REGRET THIS! OH! NO YOU WON'T! THANK YOU!"

Koenma seemed to be very afraid.

She did a quick jig around the room before skipping out the door singing. As she mounted her broom along with her thoughts of building a snowman with Kurama she very much hoped Koenma and this girl never broke up.

~*~*~*~*~

When Kurama returned home after Botan's departure nothing, absolutely nothing, could have pulled him from his depression. He wanted nothing more to crawl into bed and wake in the spring when Botan would be returning.

Every thought that passed through him was marred with regret. It plagued his mind constantly. He should have told her. He had a perfect chance. When she was saying good-bye to him all he had to do was say three little words to take the weight of his conscience of his shoulders forever. Three words! How hard were they to say? Especially when you knew he knew they'd be returned? He had had a perfect moment. And it had slipped through his fingers.

But the spring would come soon. The frost would melt and the flowers would bud in his garden. And Botan would come. That was more important than all those things. And he would tell her then. No putting it off! No writing scripts as to what he would say not anything. If he ever wanted to see Botan of himself truly happy he had to do it.

But it still panicked him. The agony of waiting. It gave him more time to think it through. Spontaneous acts are, after all, best done on short notice.

He sat brooding over the entire affair at his kitchen table, staring into the unfathomable depths of his teacup. It had long ago gone cold. The cup was like ice to his hand but Kurama took no notice of the trivialities. He hadn't really been in the mood to for tea anyway. He'd merely made it because the mechanical movements of preparing it would better suit drawing him into his pensive mood. It was silly; really, it was like he needed tea to make to be able to think.

He sighed deeply. It was pointless ponder of these things. He would, as Yusuke had once put it, think himself into an early grave. He rose from the table and dumped his ice-cold beverage into the sink. As he put the cup in the dishwasher the doorbell rang.

He looked at the clock. It was six in the morning! Who would possibly wish to speak to him at this hour! Most people were still snug in their beds at this time of day. He had actually been seriously considering climb back into bed as well. The doorbell rang again.

He shrugged and walked toward the door. It was probably a sales person anyway. And not a very good one either. The best time to sell things was in the late afternoon when pretty much everyone was home. Not this early in the day! The most you could expect by coming by this early was getting things thrown at you.

Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong!

"Yes, yes, I'm coming." He answered the annoying ring tone and turned the doorknob.

"Kurama-kun!" The next thing Kurama knew, Botan had thrown her arms around him.

"B...b...Botan?" He hardly ever stuttered. But this was such an occasion where it was necessary.

"Huh-uh!" She beamed. "Surprised?"

He nodded. "Very!" He said in a tone that suggested he was much more.

Botan withdrew and seemed to be simply glowing with joy. "Well, I wasn't about to let you get away with out fulfilling your promise!"

"Promise?" The first promise that had popped into his mind was the one he'd made to Hiei. I'm going to tell her. Surely she couldn't mean that one?

"Yes, and I've come to build that snowman!"

Kurama was relieved in spite of himself, "Oh! That promise! Well, I'll just get my things..." And he turned toward his coat closet.

"Do happen to have carrots and a top hat?"

"Carrots are in the fridge. I don't have a top hat but there's a Santa hat in here." There was pause.

"I suppose that would work."

~*~*~*~*~

The park was absolutely filled with people. Children laughed as the climbed on the jungle gym. Parents gossiped as they watched them. And ice skaters had flooded the frozen pond. It took the two snowman builders quite sometime to find a perfect spot for their little creation.

But at last, near the north end of the pond, they found a spot secluded enough where they could build in peace. Botan had brought a rather large box of objects, which she held as the perfect snowmen accessories. Starting with a large box of perfectly round black pebbles, two sticks that that looked exactly as a snowman's arms should, three buttons, a wooden pipe, a woolen scarf, a carrot from Kurama's refrigerator, and of course, the piece de resistance, Kurama's Santa hat. One must inquire as to how she came across all these things. Kurama did and she merely told she's had nearly 500 years to perfect the art of snowman building.

They set to it. Starting of well with the first and biggest of the three balls. The kitsune was surprised to find that she had indeed perfected the art. The ball when they'd finished was nearly perfectly round. It looked just like pictures he'd seen artist draw up. He couldn't believe she'd spend her long life on building statues made out of snow. Like he could say anything to about it, he'd spent his three hundred years stealing. Immortals did have to have their little hobbies, didn't they? Some...stranger then others...Youko would have thought perfecting an art that would melt in the heat was useless.

All went well with the middle sphere, until Kurama suddenly felt something cold hit his cheek. Remnants of

A snowball was found in his red hair. Surprised he looked up at Botan, who was smoothing out the snowman's torso while whistling innocently. Her tune cut off as a fresh ball of snow collided with her shoulder. By the time she realized what was going on Kurama was already forming more ammunition.

Smirking she exclaimed, "Oh, no you don't!" And she ducked just in time to avoid a ball aimed for her head.

She scooped a handful of snow and compacted it. Using the half-finished snowman as cover she threw her weapon and hit--

Nothing.

Where'd he go?

Wham!

The snowball hit her head and burst. Coating her blue hair in powdery white. She spun around quickly and saw Kurama standing in the snow, eyes filled with laughter and tossing yet another snowball from hand-to-hand.

"Oh! You'll pay for that Kurama!"

With something that might have resembled a battle cry she tackled him, pulling both her and him to the ground in a shower of snow.

Botan found herself on top of Kurama, staring directly into his emerald eyes. She was lost in them. It took her what seemed an eternity to find her way back from them. When at last she was drawn back into the biting cold of reality she realized the precarious position she was in. She blushed the color of Kurama's hair and, shaking, stood back up.

"We...uh...should get back to the snowman...." Her voice sounded far squeakier then she'd meant it to. And as Kurama slowly rose to his feet she half expected him to comment on her strange behavior. But he only smiled and said nothing.

When the third and final head was completed they plopped it on the top of the other two spheres. And for a moment both of them stepped back and admired their handiwork. Botan had seen it several times but Kurama had never built something like this. So, this was very exciting for him. After she'd seen enough to be satisfied the deity went to the cardboard box and pulled out the two sticks and the box of pebbles.

"Here you go." Said Botan thrusting the sticks out to Kurama who just looked at them.

After a moment of his silence she realized what the problem was. "You stick them on either sides of the second ball."

He nodded and took the sticks. And then questioned what she was going to do with the pebbles. "These are for the face. I'll do that, okay?"

Another nod and went to do the job that was appointed to him. Botan smiled and opened the box of pebbles. And as she positioned the first eye, she couldn't help but burst into song.

"In the meadow we can build a snowman. And pretend his name is Parson Brown. He'll say are you married? We'll say--"

Kurama burst out laughing. Botan looked at him startled.

"What's so funny?" Kurama continued laughing.

He stopped for a moment long enough to tell her what it was. "Kuwabara was singing that very song as we came to rescue you."

"Well, it's nice to know you had fun while I was trapped in a freezing castle with a psycho." She said feigning hurt.

The fox demon's deep and melodious laugh rang through the air. She watched him in with dream-like gaze. He was so beautiful when he laughed.

"I love it when you laugh."

His laughter died on his lips and he fixed Botan in a confused look.

Botan, at first, couldn't pin the reason for his look and then it hit her like a ton of bricks. She'd said that aloud! Oh, could going, Botan! Why don't you just tell him that every page of that diary he gave you is filled with nothing but why you love him next? She reprimanded her self before clearing her throat and becoming engrossed in the location of the second eye.

"I love it when you laugh too."

She nearly dropped the box of pebbles. She brought her eyes to his again. Amethyst became enveloped in the deep pools of emerald and Kurama knew that this was the time. Never could he have imagined a more perfect moment.

"In fact, I love everything about you." Botan forget how to breathe.

"Every step you make is the height of grace. Your voice is the sound of bells. Your eyes shine like the stars on a cloudless night. When all the world is still and the night air is filled with silence. I'd rather spend a moment in your company then anywhere else in this world. Not just this world...The three worlds! Botan...Do you see where I'm going with this?"

She would have answered is she could remember how to speak. All of sudden her tongue wanted nothing more then to permit Kurama to say more. And ears only wanted to hear more. She saw where this was going...But it was a place she'd thought that was out of reach.

"Botan, I love you."

Tears sprang to her eyes. Her knees became weak.

"I have all along. I just haven't realized it until now."

She felt faint. The world was whirling around her.

"And I would just like to know do you love me too?"

And if there was ever an answer that she knew better it was never said with so much vigor. She would have screamed his answer to the heavens and beyond. She would have told his answer to every living thing on the face of this green Earth. And if a soul denied it they'd be horribly mistaken. Tears of pure bliss spilled from her eyes as she spoke the words that had been weighing so heavily on her chest all this time.

"Yes! Yes! YES!" She divided into his arms, his lips catching hers.

Time seemed to stop, recognizing the lovers' need for privacy. The world was left behind as their lips met. All the love that they had pent up all this while was spilled into that kiss. Everything they had ever thought or felt for each other was driven from one mouth to the other. And both knew there was nothing either wanted more. Kurama ran his hands through her long blue hair. Relishing every soft strand. Botan pulled herself into him, never wanting to leave his warm embrace.

The sun climbed higher into the sky. Reaching its apex and them slowly glided down into the west horizon. The sky becoming darker and blacker. Stars peppered the sky and the moon hung crystal clear among a sea of black.

The streets were empty. The light the street lights cast was enjoyed by no one but two young lovers walking in the dark just for the pleasure of each other's company. And as they passed from the darkness of the night into the soft glow of the lamps and they both saw each other's face lit up, eyes shining with pure emotion they drew closer. And as the night stretched on, neither moved. Whispering only to themselves and the pristine night air they were cloaked in.

"My sweet rose."

"My beloved peony."

~*~ Fin ~*~