.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

"This is speech."
'This is thought.'
This is Youko or flashback.

Once Loved, Never Forgotten

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

An unknown voice then entered Kurama's mind, belonging neither to Syuuichi or Youko. It snapped, 'Don't make promises you can't possibly keep, Kurama.'

Kurama instantly replied, 'Who are you?'

'Don't you dare hurt Botan.'

'I never wanted to.'

'Get away from her right now.'

'She is mine.'

'You don't deserve her.'

'I know that.'

'She is the judge of that.'

'I'll kill you if you hurt her.'

'I would never.'

'I could never.'

Perplexed by the various voices arguing in his mind, Kurama refocused his thought upon the lovely lady gazing tensely at him. "I promise, Botan, with all of my heart. We will remain safe together."

Nothing prepared the lovers to what happened next. Before Kurama knew what was going on, Botan was already flying a hundred feet overhead in the arms of a demon. All logical thought left Kurama as his blood boiled with loathing rage to the disgusting creature that had stolen his prize, his loved one.

"Kurama!" Botan called out to him, tears of fear brimming her eyes.

Growling in fury from her distress, Kurama shouted back. "Botan!"

"Help me, Kurama!"

"BOTAN!"

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

"So, when are we leaving, Kurama?" Hinageshi asked gently as she joined a brooding demonic Kurama beneath a tree outside of Barako's Village. Kurama, his arms crossly crossed over his white robes, narrowed his golden eyes at Hinageshi in suspicion.

"Whatever are you talking about, Hinageshi?"

"To rescue Botan and to recover Barako's ashes, Kurama. When are we leaving to get them back? Aren't you worried about Botan and don't you feel a little sorry for Barako being defiled?" Hinageshi inquired with a sad voice. She sat on her knees beside Kurama, her hands tightly and nervously gripping the scarlet fabric of her pants. "You did, after all, know Barako back when she was alive."

Turning his handsome silver head away, and his sensitive fox ears twitching, Kurama sniffed callously, "I do not care about the dead wench, Hinageshi. All that I am worried about is Botan currently."

And when the name "Botan" left his lips, Kurama began to berate himself again for losing his most prized treasure in the world. 'I am such an idiot! I should have sensed that bitch's Demon Energy when she was nearing; have I gotten so weak that I cannot even sense other Energy signatures anymore? Argh, Botan, I hope you can forgive me of my weakness. I hope you can forgive me for being so weak in your time of need.'

Further agitating Kurama, Hinageshi's soft childish voice broke through the brooding fox demon's thoughts. "But Kurama--"

"Drop it, Hinageshi! Let Barako's ashes be lost," Kurama angrily barked, shooting a fuming glare at the smaller girl. "Just as long she shall never vex me again in a tangible form. I do not care what happens to the remains of that vile creature! You should be able to understand my reason of hate for that wretch; you, especially since you were her younger sister, should understand Barako's deceit."

"Kurama." Hinageshi looked to the ground sadly, her verdant eyes threatening to tear. Trying her best to hold the droplets of sadness back, Hinageshi gazed with a pleading expression at Kurama. "I thought you would be able to forgive Barako after so long. I thought you would be able to let go of your hate and be free from it."

Kurama shook his head in disgust at Hinageshi's words. "You shall quickly soon learn, Hinageshi, that I do not share the same pity for your former sister as you do. I shall NEVER forgive Barako for what she has done. And thanks to that demon brainwashing Botan, I had a pleasant reminder of the searing pain where Barako's enchanted arrow pierced my heart," Kurama growled harshly, gripping at his sallow robes over his chest. "And that I shall never forget that piercing pain as so long as Barako's memory lives on."

Hinageshi shivered at Kurama's blunt ferocity. Right then, the other Spirit Detectives including the wounded Mimiru, joined the couple beneath the tree. After Botan's kidnapping and a vicious fight between two skilled demons, a further injured Kurama returned to Barako's Village to tell Mimiru what had happened and then alert the others. To the half-demon's surprise, everyone else had already gathered there, hearing the series of blasts from the human habitat. Two stories met as the Detectives figured out the same demoness that had stolen Barako's ashes had kidnapped Botan.

Through story telling, Hiei received another chance to name Kurama an idiot for not returning Botan sooner. The fire demon was rather displeased hard work had gone down the drain whereas now there would be harder work to accomplish. Kazuma admittedly felt awkward not being called the first-class idiot by Hiei this time around.

"I pity you, Kurama. It is disheartening to know and see that your heart is yet so black with hate," Mimiru muttered as she led her horse to level ground. With that done, the older priestess began to prepare for the journey with her one good arm. Hinageshi rushed over to help her. "You can't possibly hate Lady Barako that much not to lay her remains to rest and dearly love her reincarnation instead. Will you not aid us in recovering her stolen ashes, Kurama?" Yusuke, Kazuma, and Hiei turned their attention to Kurama to see his response.

"You obviously did not hear me the first time, Mimiru," Youko snapped irritably, glaring extremely icily at the girl. "I shall NEVER forgive Barako for her treachery, and if it means to allow her ashes to be stolen, so be it. I could care less what happens to the remnants of her. Botan is my only concern."

At that moment, Hinageshi snapped. "Listen here, Kurama, I don't care if you still hold that pathetic grudge against Barako, even if she did kill you! You are going to help us rescue Botan AND find Barako's ashes just because you would have done it for any other person you cared for! The village needs Barako's ashes returned! And no, you are not going to make any excuses to do otherwise!" She jabbed a finger at Kurama's heart for emphasis. "I know demons have their pride about being cold, ruthless, and heartless, but you, Kurama, are not a heartless being, no matter how much you want to deny it; therefore you are going to help Mimiru, the others, and me to find the specter that stole Barako's remains and kidnapped Botan. Ugh, your attitude right now is worst than an irritated Hiei could ever be!"

Hiei snorted at the comment, turning his back on Hinageshi. "Puh, I resent that, woman."

Kurama, wide eyed from shock, stared at Hinageshi in surprise; he never thought this almost innocent girl could have such initiative for anything, just like the first time he had heard Botan swear. 'But then again, she is supposed to be Barako's little sister,' Kurama mused to himself, 'Barako always did have a certain fire about her.'

The fox quickly recovered his icy persona and smirked. "All right, Hinageshi, have it your way. We shall find those ashes together, and then maybe, once they are recovered, I shall be allowed to hate Barako's memory in peace," Kurama smirked as he rose to his feet, walking down the village road and already beginning the rescue mission.

"Whew," Yusuke breathed heavily, wiping sweat from his brow. He gave a smirk to Kazuma and Hiei. "And here I was afraid Kurama was going to kill Hinageshi for being so stubborn."

"Yes," Hiei laughed with as much humor he could place in his voice (not a lot), his arms crossed over his chest. "I would have never thought the little ferry girl would out-stubborn Kurama."

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

'Miss Botan, rise.'

'Wake up, please, Miss Botan.'

'Lady Botan, you are in danger.'

'Child, you must awake.'

"Huh?" Slowly fluttering her long-lashed lavender eyes open, Botan found herself floating in the middle of an endless abyss of darkness and space. All around her there were only curtains of cold and a blanket of black: sheer, suffocating black. There was not a single pinpoint of light or not a glimmer of hope within the desolate void. She was painfully alone and terribly frightened, however, four voices of warmth and encouragement told Botan otherwise.

'We are always here for you, Miss Botan.'

'Do not be frightened.'

'We shall protect you.'

'We shall guide you.'

"Who are you?" Botan yelled out into the empty space, wondering who these voices are. They sounded amazingly familiar, but Botan could not place her finger onto these people's identities. Somewhere deep within her lost heart and memories, these people had meant something to Botan; they had been important, vital to Botan's life. They held answers Botan had been seeking all her afterlife. They knew who she really was.

'There is no time for explanations now.'

'No, no time at all.'

'The Three Worlds are depending on you.'

'Your loved ones are depending on you.'

"But why me?" Botan questioned uncertainly, still searching for the sources of the mysterious voices. She began running towards anywhere and everywhere, the voices coming at her from all around. Her mind would soon go mad, she thought; if she did not find the speakers shortly, she would indeed go mad. "Why is everyone depending on me? Why does everyone depend on me?!"

'Because only you have the power.'

'Because only you understand.'

'Because only you are unwilling to fight.'

'Because only you can win.'

Botan felt herself shrink into the darkness, the priestess-in- training suddenly further unsure of her developing abilities. Hot tears were brimming her amethyst eyes, the young lady in constant confusion. "What power? I'm nothing compared to Barako's strength! And what do I only understand? And how do you know I don't want to fight? How do you know this? How do you know I am the only one who can save the Three Worlds? ANSWER ME!"

'We all have tried.'

'And have died.'

'Your soul was the strongest.'

'The only one fit to survive.'

"The only one fit to survive?" Botan fearfully repeated. Sudden sadness filled the depths of her tender soul as the answer began to set in. Other souls who had been just like her, somewhere from her distant past, had not been fortunate to survive a great struggle whereas she had; a pang of guilt crossed Botan's gentle heart. She had succeeded from borrowed strength, from power that had not been her own.

'Do not feel guilty for there is no time or need.'

'You must get up, Miss Botan.'

'You are in grave danger.'

'You and the Three Worlds.'

"Huh?" Botan felt like she was on a carrousel that was going a hundred miles per hour and never going to stop.

'Hurry!

'Rise!

'Do your duty and protected the Sacred Jewel of Four Souls!'

'Fulfill your destiny!'

No longer able to stand being stuck in physical and mental obscurity, Botan shouted and pleaded in earnest, "Please tell me! Who are you? Where am I? Why is this happening to me? Tell me how you know all of this?! How do you know what I am to be and become? How do you know my destiny?!"

'Beware of your past, Lady Botan.'

'Do not allow it to imprison you.'

'Remember you no longer live in that hateful time.'

'But remember the power and knowledge you held.'

"I don't understand this!" Botan cried, her mind near its breaking point. "I don't understand any of this at all! What will the past do to myself? What is it that I must beware of? What must I do? What is it that I must do?"

'Protect Kurama!'

'Protect yourself!'

'Protect everyone!'

'Do not be defeated!'

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

Groaning and feeling absolutely sore all over, Botan awoke with a start, especially after the bizarre dream she just had. She felt like she had slept on rocks for the entire night. "Where am I?" Botan found her body bound to a coffin-like stone cradle filled with noxious liquid. She was utterly immobilized. "WHAT? WHAT IS THIS STUFF?"

"You are in my lair, Lady Priestess," a familiar voice cackled coldly. "Welcome." The apparition mocked Botan in her vulnerability.

"Who are you? Why have you kidnapped me?!" Botan lashed out, recognizing the voice as her kidnapper. A flood of memories rushed at Botan as the girl remembered the putrid woman kidnapping her literally from Kurama's arms and then further badly injuring Kurama. Botan felt enraged since the demon lady had a) separated Botan from Kurama and b) ruined a special moment for the couple. Botan then made a grossed-out face, something similar to a cat about to die. "And what is this gross stuff?"

The demoness, walking out from the darkness of the cave, motioned for the squirming Botan to calm down. Blank, empty gray eyes amusedly observed the trapped young blue-haired woman. "You better stop thrashing like that, Lady Botan, or you might harm yourself; and that would be bad, for then my master would severely punish me."

At that, Botan ceased her futile struggling. She tilted her head curiously to the side, like that of a young child. "Your master?"

"The demon that shall rule all of Maikai and the Human World."

"And what does he want with me?" Botan questioned with an icy voice, her personality changing from innocent curiosity to passionate hate. Kurama's practices seem to have made an influence upon the former ferry girl. "I have nothing of use for him!"

Chuckling with even greater amusement at Botan's antics, the demon simply answered, "Well, other than the large collection of Sacred Jewel shards you possess, he wants nothing more than you, Lady Botan."

Botan felt her insides squirm apprehensively. "WHAT?"

Laughing even harder, the demoness extended, "My master desires you, Lady Botan; he desires your frail, beautiful body for his own amusing sense of twisted pleasure. He lusts after you, as many men have in your first lifetime. He lusts for you in a way, Lady Botan, that he is more than willing to do ANYTHING to make love to you. Just as how you had lusted for Youko Kurama five hundred years ago."

Botan could not make herself retort, still further disgusted by the demon lady's first half of her comment. A demon lord, no doubt an extremely powerful demon lord, wanted her for his own sexual entertainment; damn Barako and her beautiful genes. Botan felt even more disgusted when she remembered the bile she was currently laying in. 'God, why do you hate me so much?' Botan childishly cried in her head. 'Did I do something wrong? Did I offend you in some way?'

"And that concoction you are laying in," the demon lady added, catching Botan's line of vision, "is my potion, preparing your body to permanently part with your soul."

"WHAT?"

'Ew, gross,' Botan whimpered. 'Does she seriously mean her master REALLY wants my body? This is wrong--This is VERY wrong.'

"Well, if I am going to revive Priestess Barako, I must have her soul to accompany that earthen body. And it is very much fortunate for me that my master is ready to use your soulless body." The demon licked her fingers smugly in anticipation. "Even if your body is soulless, it would still be dangerous with all of that tremendous power and possibility you possess. My master and I could not take the chance you might ruin our plans unintentionally."

The suspense was killing Botan. The reincarnation had to know more about what in the world was going on. She needed to know who was trying to toy with her fate: actually, she needed to know HOW MANY were trying to control her destiny. "Who are you?"

"I am Anima, a demon who summons souls of the dead and revives them with bodies of earth."

"Well, you're not going to get away with this! Mimiru and Kurama will come for Barako's ashes, and Kurama will never allow any harm to come to me!" Smiling inwardly, Botan felt quite smug that she was absolutely sure Kurama would come and rescue her; she was, after all, betting her life on it.

"Do you honestly believe those stories your friends have told you, Lady Botan?" Anima laughed harshly, her ghastly hair snaking all around her. "Feh, those stories were just fairy tales to keep you from being upset, Lady Botan. Ah, and I can still see your naiveté to allow yourself to believe such intricate tales; allow me to reveal you to the truth. Lady Barako never loved Kurama; she was just using him to gain his limitless knowledge and wisdom."

Botan shook her head in disbelief. "No."

"Lady Barako only desired Youko Kurama for his body, like my master for yours."

Botan felt herself begin to violently tremble. "You're lying!"

"How can I lie about history? How can I lie about events that have already occurred, Lady Botan?" Anima chuckled, stroking Botan's chin teasingly. "Besides, why do you think Priestess Barako allowed Kurama to live for so long? Ha, did you think it was for LOVE? Heh, the reason was far from it. Do not worry of such trifle things, Lady Botan. As soon as I have revived Priestess Barako with your soul and her ashes, you shall have no need to remember your bloody past; Priestess Barako shall do that for you."

"Barako?" Botan whispered. Only then did Botan noticed the cocoon laying in fire right beside her; the vessel somewhat resembled human.

"With her ashes I have made a clay," Anima hissed pleasingly. "And with that clay I have made an earthen vessel that highly resembles yourself; after all, you are her reincarnation. And as soon as she is done firing, with the help of your Sacred Jewel shards you shall lose your soul, and Priestess Barako shall live again."

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

'Why is it when I finally tell you how I have felt for you so long does someone steal you away from me?' Kurama frowned, jumping nimbly from boulder to boulder. 'Were we just not meant to be, Botan? Is Fate purposely coming against us to prevent our happiness with one another? Or is she just punishing me for escaping her grasp when I ran from Death?'

'Were we, Botan, remain to hate one another for all eternity?'

'Is this the price I pay for not forgiving Barako even after all these years? Must Botan's life be sacrificed because of my spite? God, if that is so, then may He take my life instead; I can't bear it if Botan dies for me.'

"Relax, Kurama," Hiei muttered warningly, sensing all of his friend's anxiety through his demonic aura. Together, he and Kurama were speedily leading the way towards Botan's Spirit Energy signature and the location of the Sacred Jewel shards; the others, since they were only humans, were trying their best to follow the coarse course. "Get yourself together, fox. You're more pathetic than a human. We're going to find Botan, so everything is going to be fine. She can take care of herself (to a certain point), and she's going to be all right."

Hiei growled inwardly. 'She better be all right or else Anima will have hell to pay. That witch will be dead on the spot if anything happened to Botan.'

Smiling somewhat at Hiei's words, knowing he was trying his best to be comforting, Kurama agreed, "You are right. Botan is a strong woman, so when we find her, she will be completely fine."

'She is a strong woman.'

'She will be fine.'

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

Botan felt herself drifting between the spiritual realm and the physical realm, her soul and body teetering to one side for another. She wondered if there was such an illness called dimensional sickness. In the spiritual realm, Botan could easily sense the calling of her friends' souls, which were desperately searching for her; in the physical realm, the young lady watched Anima prepare Barako's newly made body for soul possession. Barako's shell was calling out to Botan's soul; her spirit was literally being slowly ripped away from her own body.

'Where am I?'

Gasping in surprise, Botan looked around herself, wondering where all of these voices were coming from. Why was she constantly hearing all of these voices? Was she some radio tower for souls to communicate, like shamans? Did she have an invisible sign on her that said, "All souls wanting conversation or have confusing things to say, welcome"?

'Who are you?'

'I am you.'

Botan's mind began to reel as she tried to comprehend what the voice had just told herself: or was it what she had just told herself? GAH! An uncontrollable whirlwind of thoughts stormed from one side of her mind to another.

'Are you myself?'

'Am I myself?'

Desperately Botan wanted a single moment in time where it was ONLY herself occupying her mind and not some other group of souls trying to tell her what to do; and the group of souls included Hiei's telekinetic abilities.

'Kurama, where are you?!'

'Please, rescue me!'

Silently observing Botan as she attended to the ceramic cocoon, Anima could clearly see Botan's inner turmoil, and the demon smiled with cold relish at the painful sight. "Barako is beginning her awakening. Soon I shall have an obedient slave that can locate as many Sacred Jewel shards as my master and I desire, and my master shall have the lover he has craved for five hundred years."

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

'Kurama!'

'Botan.'

'Kurama!'

'Barako.'

"Kurama, don't leave me behind!"

'Where are you, Kurama?'

'I love you.'

Botan opened her eyes, a rush of light and heat blinding her; at first, a fear of disorientation filled her but quickly washed away as she actually recognized where she was. The familiarity of the Human World wrapped warmly around Botan like a veil of sunlight and joy. Hugging herself, Botan grinned at the comfort her human clothing gave her: the sensation was loose, easy, like life breathing into her very soul.

Glancing around and analyzing her location, Botan smiled when she spotted Genkai's temple not to far from her right. A larger grin occupied her face when Botan caught sight of her friends merrily waving at her, inviting her to join them. Yusuke and Keiko, dressed as they in their ramen shop, were smiling and were not arguing, a pleasant break from the norm; Kazuma, Shizuru, and Yukina were standing together, waving at her like she had been missing from them for years; Hiei, not far from Yukina's side, had even rid of his usual scowl and mustered a small grin just for Botan.

'All of my friends--I love you so much.'

'And I love you as well.'

Although she appreciated the welcome from all of her friends, Botan searched for one person in particular and his warm greeting. A flood of tender emotions filled her when the lady caught sight of showering scarlet locks. Smooth sensual smile, engaging emerald eyes, and breath-taking beauty emitting from him all over: Kurama was a god of beauty in Botan's eyes. He stood a little aloof from everyone else, his crimson hair blowing with the wind. The Detective, dressed in a stylish black jacket and pants, made Botan melt with one grin.

'Kurama.'

'I love you so.'

She ran towards her friends, happy that she no longer had to worry about the Sacred Jewel of Four Souls, glad no more hard feelings were between herself and Kurama, joyous that she could spend the remainder of her life with ones she dearly loved. Botan was just happy she was alive.

However, as soon as she reached the group, Botan only met Kurama; everyone else had disappeared. And Kurama was not in his human form as Botan had seen him earlier. Instead, he was now Youko Kurama, the crafty fox demon of his murderous past. "Kurama, where did everyone go?" Botan asked fearfully, a darkness suddenly eating away at the light. Clouds began to gather in the sky, slowly blotting out the sunlight.

'Why have they disappeared?'

Kurama's eyes, now a piercing yet hypnotizing gold, narrowed slightly in concern, as if Botan was not herself. He took his delicate bloodstained hands and gently cupped the girl's untainted face. "Who else is there but you and me, Barako?"

'Who else do we need?'

'You are not yourself.'

'Barako?'

"What?"

Botan turned around in alarm and bumped into a crystal wall. The young lady stared at herself through the mirror-like barrier and did not recognize her reflection; but then, Botan realized, her mirror image was not herself at all. It was Barako.

"You. Barako, Priestess in care of the Sacred Jewel of Four Souls."

'You are not yourself.'

"Is this the real me?"

The priestess furiously glared at Botan through the looking glass, a fiery pair of amethyst pools impaling with hateful spite another exact pair of eyes. The past found itself loathing the present: Botan, dressed in contemporary human clothing, and Barako, dressed in a five hundred-year old priestess garb. An accusing finger pointed straight towards the confused girl's heart. 'You stole my life, you imposter.'

Cowering slightly at the accusation, Botan nearly took a step back in her fear. Fog and darkness began to cloud around the facing two. "What?"

'You stole my life, you worthless wretch. How dare you defile my memory so!'

Breath was lost. Botan felt as if she were slowly, bit by bit, losing all of her once secure sanity. That was how she had been feeling for the past few months. "But how? Who are you--I mean--Aren't I you? I am you. How can I steal something from you? And I never defiled anything--Did I?"

'You shall never be me, little girl.'

"And I do not wish to be you," Botan answered evenly, slowly regaining her courage. Barako's appearance did not seem as frightening as before. "I don't want to live like you, ever. I never want to live with the guilt of hurting Kurama like you did, Barako! And I never took what was yours. Yours has always been mine."

'You stole Kurama from me. He is mine and mine alone.'

"Kurama loves both of us!"

'Can a man love two women and fully give himself to both?'

Botan desperately wanted to slap the image before her, the woman who appeared to be more matured than her, the lady who was older and far more beautiful than she, Botan, would dare dream to be. The former ferry girl desired nothing more right now than to remove any likeness she had with this lovely wench.

Smirking knowingly, Barako quietly spoke, 'I am right.'

"No, you're wrong," Botan muttered furiously quickly in return. She placed her warming hands over her left breast, directly above her steadily beating heart. Strong faith took hold of her. "Kurama loves me, and I know that he truly does. He told me so, and I could see it in his soul."

'Heh, you trust a foul demon and his false words?' Barako spitefully laughed in Botan's face, the priestess' eyes cruelly and mockingly regarding the girl as well. Cold, unfeeling eyes--Did Botan have icy lifeless doorways into the soul like Barako?

Balling her usually gentle hands in rage, Botan shouted at the translucent image, "There is nothing in the world I can't trust Kurama with! I can trust Kurama no matter what!"

'Feh, that is what I had thought,' Barako whispered forlornly, glaring at the ground and biting her rose-red lip. 'But then, look what had happened to me five hundred years ago. That damn fox demon betrayed my trust, and now, I am dead; I exist now only within your weak soul and in that disloyal bastard's insufferable memory.'

"I don't even want you here in my soul!" Botan screamed, clamping her hands over her ears. She no longer wanted to hear Barako's voice echoing in her head. "You're awful! YOU'RE ABSOLUTELY AWFUL! All you have to say about Kurama are terrible and hateful things! Even when Kurama loves you so much, you despise him and throw him into the dirt. You're slandering him!"

'The only one who has been slandered is I,' Barako scoffed, flipping her cerulean hair behind with one flick of her wrist.

Tears were beginning to collect in Botan's fiery lavender eyes. "Kurama would never dare say anything terrible about you!"

Barako's face flamed with Botan's reply. She felt crudely insulted by the petty, pathetic girl's weak lie. The priestess felt dirty and muddled, and she loathed these sensations with passion, just like she loathed Kurama. 'He smites my mere memory! Do not insult me by lying to me, girl!'

Botan slammed her fist furiously against the crystal barrier that kept Barako safe from the human girl's clutches. "I'm not lying, you witch! He grieves over the hate you died with! He has grieved for you every single day since the day he found out you died!"

'He is a demon!'

"He is the one I love!"

Barako flared her powerful aura about her. Following Botan's actions, Barako slammed her own angry fist against the wall that separated the present from her. 'You foolish girl! Do you wish to suffer my same fate by putting your existence into that lowly thief's bloody hands?'

"I have NOTHING to worry about when Kurama is by my side!" Botan confidently retorted to her former incarnate. "When we're together, nothing can harm us! We're much stronger together than we could ever be alone!"

'What shall it take to make you understand your foolishness, girl?' Barako snapped, her voice a near hiss. Her powers flickered as if angry spirits surrounded her and were lashing about. 'What shall it take to make you realize you are throwing your life away for worthless filth?'

"What will it take to make you realize you're absolutely WRONG?"

Barako easily and coldly laughed at Botan's demanding question, as if the answer were the most obvious answer in the world. 'The day Kurama painfully dies and is forever sent to Hell.'

The priestess' inhumane reply terrified Botan; however, Botan pushed away her own fears and thought of only Kurama and his strength. "I'll never allow it!" Botan yelled back. "I'll never allow you to harm Kurama!"

A smirk crossed Barako's beautiful but cold face. 'I shall not rest until that day comes.'

"Never! It'll never happen!"

Another secret smile passed over Barako, each smile more sinister than the last. In Botan's mind, she dearly believed Barako was her evil incarnate. 'Hm, we shall see, little girl. We shall see.'

Right then, Botan opened her frightened eyes and awoke from her dream.

"KURAMA!"

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

'KURAMA!'

Jerking his head upwards, Kurama's flawless face frowned when he saw nothing in the clear-blue sky. He was quite sure he had heard someone frantically calling out his name; however, the empty sky and his demonic ears told him otherwise. 'Botan? Are you in more danger now, Botan? Am I too late to save you?'

Glancing around, Youko turned to the group and informed, "There are demons heading straight toward us, no doubt Anima's pathetic defense against intruders. I'm going to go ahead, deal with what comes in my way and try rescuing Botan. Everyone else should come from behind, deal with what's left and then join us later."

"Fine," Hiei answered quickly for everyone, drawing out his katana. The fire demon wanted to be well prepared when the low-class demons came. "And you better leave something for us to deal with, Kurama, or else I'll be in a really foul mood. And SOMEONE has to pay hell for getting me angry today."

"You'll have plenty to do, Hiei. I'll be sure of that." And with a small, sly smile, Kurama, ever still sleek, seductive, and stunning, sashayed away.

With Kurama gone ahead, the others somewhat quickened their pace; they did not want Kurama the only one rescuing Botan. Their eagerness caused tension and uneven silence, which was soon broken by Yusuke. "Hinageshi," Yusuke muttered quietly, walking alongside the young girl. "I've been wondering about what you said at Beggar's Cavern, and it's driving me crazy since then. I just don't understand how the cave fits in with Botan and what's going on right now. Who exactly was this Burraki?"

Mimiru sharply tugged at her horse's reins, the woman's grassy eyes wide with surprise and fear. The priestess had immediately ceased her animal and stood directly in Yusuke's path (which was everyone else's path, since they were on a small mountainous trail). "What did you say, Yusuke?"

The partially demonic Detective and the human Detective both regarded Mimiru curiously as they looked up at her from her mount. "Burraki?" Yusuke repeated as he cocked a brow. He was deeply curious why Mimiru was acting like this so suddenly.

'Jeez, what is her problem? I mean, honestly--What is Mimiru making such a big fuss about? It's only a God damned name.'

Gasping from hearing the name once more, Mimiru glared, "That name-- That disgusting name--That horrible thief! Burraki, a name no one has muttered in the last three hundred years, especially after the tragedy." Worried expressions crossed Kazuma and Yusuke's face when they noticed Mimiru trembling with anger. Hinageshi felt uneasy when she noticed Mimiru's fist tightly gripping her bow and arrow along with her reins. "That bastard--He is the killer, the demon man that murdered Lady Hinagiku and Lady Sakura exactly ten years after Lady Barako's death."

Hiei was now even paying attention to Mimiru's (in his opinion) pointless rambling. "Lady Sakura and Hinageshi?"

"He's the one that killed Hinageshi?" Yusuke spurted out, turning to Hinageshi for confirmation or no. Yusuke immediately knew his answer when the young guide turned her head away from the others. "Why didn't you tell us about this, Hinageshi?"

The little ferry girl made no reply.

"Who is Lady Sakura?" Kazuma wondered, knowing he had heard Lady Sakura somewhere before. The young man even scratched his chin as he searched through his memory for Lady Sakura. Hiei agonizingly fought his natural instinct to call Kazuma a world-class idiot.

"She's one of the Five Priestesses, don't you remember, Kuwabara?" Yusuke quickly replied, his own fist itching to knock some sense in his carrot-top friend. "Sakura's Village was named after her."

"Yes, Lady Sakura was another of the Five Priestesses that protected the Villages five hundred years ago; in fact, she was Lady Barako's closest acquaintance," Mimiru explained, regaining her composure after some hasty meditation. She commenced moving forward and urged her horse to move on. "And through their friendship, Lady Sakura betrayed Lady Barako when Lady Sakura allowed her heart grow weak and fall beneath Burraki's evil influence."

"From what I remembered," Hinageshi cut in, somewhat uncomfortable where Mimiru was leading the conversation, "after my death, Lady Sakura's clan moved to the Human World and since have tried to find a way to redeem themselves from Lady Sakura's failure as a fellow priestess."

Nodding, Mimiru confirmed, "Yes, no descendant from the Hatsume Clan has protected Sakura's Village since Lady Sakura's death. They all suffer from the shame of Lady Sakura's death."

The telepathic fire demon's ears pricked at the clan's name. 'Where have I heard of that name? That human name--Why does it seem familiar? Er, where is Kurama when you need him?'

"Hey, Urameshi, isn't Botan's boyfriend's last name Hatsume?" Kazuma wondered out loud, interrupting Hiei's steady train of thoughts.

Hiei shagged his shoulders, shocked by the orange-haired simpleton's observation. He did not know whether to be mad that Kazuma had figured that out or that the dummy had disturbed his thinking process. 'Damn it--How the hell did he figure that out before me? Oh well, at least I shouldn't show him I didn't know before hand.' "You're an idiot. Of course that's his last name. And here I thought you at least had better memory than that of a goldfish."

Yusuke, ignoring Hiei's degrading comments, nodded at Kazuma's earlier statement. "Yeah, his name is Hatsume Soijiro. What about it, Kuwabara?"

"I don't know--Do you think he could be a descendant of Lady Sakura and be a part of the Hatsume Clan?" Kazuma suggested, putting on a weird face of suspicion. "I mean, that would probably explain how he and Botan hitched up so fast; that dude is just trying to erase the family shame Lady Sakura put up on them by getting together with Botan and protecting her."

Yusuke shrugged nonchalantly, not wanting to hear any long explanations about other people's character he hardly knew. "I don't know, Kuwabara; and honestly, I really don't care right now. Anyway, back to my Burraki question--Who was he?"

"We never really found out," Hinageshi muttered quietly, sighing somewhat as the group continued walking along. "Three days before Barako's death, Burraki had disappeared from Beggar's Cavern, and he was not seen by anyone until Lady Sakura's death and my own."

Yusuke crossed his arms in a frustrated manner. His chocolate orbs glowered like fiery embers ready to transform into a fiery tower of flame. "All of this is a little--How do I say it--weird. I have a bad feeling about this whole thing--"

"Look!" Kazuma interrupted, anxiously pointing out towards the distance. Up ahead, the mountain trail ended, and at the end of the path, there lied several desolate caverns and a large foreboding one in the center of the mountain. "There's Kurama fighting off some monsters, and over there are Botan and a demon right next to her!"

And Kazuma's observation was correct. Near the mountain caverns, Kurama battled furiously with lesser apparitions, trying his best to get near the demon lady and Botan. A small forest of demon-eating plants surrounding the animalistic spirit was a testament to that. However, what the others did not know, Kurama had noticed Botan lying all so still on her stone bed, as if she were dead. Kurama was presently fighting to reach Botan's side and make sure she had yet not lost her life.

Everyone began running as fast as they could to help Kurama; and as the group neared to aid their friend, Mimiru and Hinageshi gasped as they recognized the ritual that was about to take place. "Kurama!" Mimiru shouted, urging her horse to gallop as fast as it could. "You must destroy that cocoon, immediately!"

"What about Barako's ashes and Botan?" Yusuke demanded as he and the other Spirit Detectives rushed to rescue their friends. The group was almost at the edge of demonic plants. "Shouldn't we try and rescue Botan first?" Urameshi was already charging his Spirit Gun; just sensing the energy of that made several demons flee.

"Rescuing Botan won't matter if that cocoon is opened and set free!" Hinageshi cried in panic as she flew beside the fighters on her oar. "Yusuke, we have to destroy it before it's too late!"

"Before what's too late?" Kazuma questioned as the others clashed with the demon cronies, the human boy slashing his way through demons with his refined Spirit Sword.

"Before we lose Miss Botan's soul!" Mimiru answered frantically, shooting at attacking phantoms left and right. The priestess was having a hard time, the young woman trying to manage a frightened beast and to accurately fire arrows with an injured hand.

"What?!'

When Kurama and the others finally ridded themselves of the various and rather annoying apparitions, they all turned their attention towards Anima, who had found a way to escape the battle unscathed, and the unconscious Botan. "Stop!" Hinageshi yelled, flying at full speed towards the demon lady. "I won't let you take away Botan's soul!"

"Ha, you're too late, little girl. The ceremony is near completion. And now, the final ingredient." The ghastly demonic woman, bringing out an elaborate, elegant dagger from her layers of kimonos, nimbly cut Botan's palm and firmly squeezed the girl's hand so that her blood would drip into the cradle's formula. Eerie glowing began to take place. Before she could do anything else, Hinageshi found herself flying backwards from the power radiating now from Botan.

"What the hell is going on?!" Yusuke shouted as a bright light began to emit from Botan's body and the cocoon lying right beside the girl. He wanted to see what was taking place, but the power of the light made him turn his eyes away. A mass of Spirit Energy was drowning his senses. "What's happening to Botan?!"

"Barako has been revived!" Hinageshi cried back in fear, covering her own eyes from the blinding glare. Fortunately for her, Yusuke had managed to catch her in midair before any harm had come to her.

"Barako?!"

If anyone, including Anima, had been able to see anything through the light, they would have seen one bright, powerful orb separating itself from its original body. Not only was the energy overwhelmingly powerful but also the spirit gave of warm rays of hope and joy like its owner. Botan's soul rushed into the empty vessel of Barako, the reincarnation's bright amethyst eyes dulling as her spark of life left her body.

The cocoon suddenly cracked and crumbled away into fine powder, and for the first time in many years, Kurama felt his blood run cold with fear and dread. He was staring into a face he thought had died long ago. "Barako."

'She has returned.'

'The fear you thought had died has made her return.'

'At the price you had feared to pay.'

'Botan.'

Shade shifted side from side, like swimming shadows of the forest. Barako silently watched them, straining her eyes to catch sight of something more specific. She searched the shadows until they were chased away by a presence that reflected day's light. "Kurama! Oh, Kurama, there you are. You worried me and had me to wonder if you were coming today," Barako sighed with relief, placing an elegant pale hand over her heart. "After all, we have a promise to fulfill tomorrow. A very important promise."

Although Kurama wanted to smile just as warmly back at his love, an itching doubt continued to nag at the back of the fox demon's mind. It had been there since the day they had made that promise. "Barako, are you absolutely sure you wish to do this? You know that you do not have to and that--"

Barako smiled even more as she gently petted Kurama's pale cheek and silenced him with a finger upon his lips. "Do not worry, Kurama. All shall be well. There is nothing for you to fear, just as long as I am with you and you me."

"I love you. Do not forget that, Barako," Kurama whispered, pulling the priestess into a deep embrace. "I love you, and I shall never do anything to ever hurt you."

Smiling inside and crying outside, Barako whispered into Kurama's shoulder, "And I you."

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

"Who--Who are you?" a confused young woman questioned shakily, staring at Anima in dazed fashion. Icy blue locks waved coldly in the bitter breeze, pale peach skin having small contrast against the woman's white top but glared against the scarlet bottom. Lavender eyes gazed upon a new body, a new body filled with Sacred Jewel shards. The priestess stared down at her hands and body in wonder: she was alive. "Where am I?"

Anima, taking the question as her cue, gracefully bowed at Barako, the demoness slightly smiling at her success. "I am the one who has revived you, Lady Barako. My name is Anima, a shepherdess for those souls who find themselves lost. You are presently at my fortress, the place of your rebirth, my Lady."

"Who are they?" Barako wondered, pointing her elegant finger at the Spirit Detectives a little ways off. A figure among the group struck a distant memory in the far reaches of Barako's, once Botan's, soul.

Thinking of her master and his deepest desires, Anima without hesitation reported, "That lustrous demon over there is the one who betrayed you all those years ago, Lady Barako. He is no other than Youko Kurama, the fierce fox thief."

"Youko--Kurama?" A new light began to burn in the revived priestess' eyes; or really, darkness steadily dictated the dead windows of her soul. Her spiritual aura began to flare darkly and dangerously around her, making everyone cringe at the smallest sensation.

"Barako, do you--Do you remember me?" Kurama muttered quietly, stepping away from the group and towards Barako. Golden pools of remorse and confusion desolately gazed upon the furious holy woman.

"Traitor!" Barako without another thought grabbed the weapons Anima handed to her; and the priestess wasted no time attacking Kurama. She desired nothing more than him dead. "You lying lowly bastard! How dare you show your face to me after what you did? How dare you still LIVE?!"

THWOK! THWOK!

"Barako! Please, listen to me!" Kurama reasoned as he nimbly dodged Barako's arrows; however, he was not quick enough to dodge the arrow flying past his shoulder. Blood oozed down the thieving spirit's arm. "It was not me who killed you all those years ago! I never betrayed you!" The young demon was incredibly thankful Barako was not used to her new body or else he would have already been dead.

"Listen to yourself, you worthless, wretched monster! Vile monstrous fox, how dare you mock me in such a manner! How dare you speak such words to me! Are you yet trying to deceive me?"

"Barako, I did not betray you! Please, believe me when I say that!" Kurama pleaded as he started hurtfully at the revived priestess. Suddenly, searing pain webbed all over Kurama's arm: he had been hit twice. He gripped tightly at his injured left arm, trying to slow down the rapid bleeding; he undoubtedly would need that arm for later. "Barako! Please! I could never betray your trust or your kindness you showed me all those years ago!"

"Liar!" Barako screamed with rage, shooting another enchanted arrow at Kurama. The demon barely had time to dodge the attack. Barako's skill was quickly returning to her. "Beast! All you ever wanted from me was the Sacred Jewel of Four Souls! You NEVER cared!"

"No!" Kurama argued. "I loved you, Barako!"

"Please, believe him, Older Sister! Kurama did not betray you all those years ago! It was just a misunderstanding!" Hinageshi argued beside the fox demon.

"And now you turn my sister against me!" Barako shrieked with rage. "You traitor!"

Watching the argument from afar, Yusuke grunted angrily as he looked onto Botan's former incarnation. "How can that bitch and Botan share the same soul? How in the world could they be the same person?!" The Detective looked down to his soulless assistant with a compassionate look. "Don't worry, Botan. We're going to get you back; we're going to get rid of Barako and leave her memories to rest. We'll bring you back, I promise."

'No.'

Yusuke searched about the area, the young man quite sure he had just heard a voice nearby. But then again, the sound had merely been louder than a whisper. "Kuwabara, did you hear something a minute ago?"

Kazuma, who was anxiously watching combat between his foxy companion and the demon's former love, distractedly replied, "No, I didn't. Why? Is something the matter?"

'Stop fighting.'

Shiver going up his spine, Yusuke jumped up in shock. He looked around himself again, determined to find the source of the voice. "There it is, again! Where the hell is it coming from? Who is that?"

Frowning at Yusuke's odd behavior, Kazuma replied, "I don't hear anything, Urameshi!"

'Please.'

"I tell you, Kuwabara, there is something or someone who is saying something to us! Someone is trying to speak to us!" Yusuke hollered back, holding Botan closer to him to protect her from the battle's debris.

'Don't fight!'

'Who the hell is this voice?' Yusuke demanded from himself. 'It sounds so familiar, but I can't quite--' Realization struck Yusuke hard as he stared down at the unconscious Botan in his arms.

"Oh my, God. Botan, you're still here."

'Please, no more. Please don't fight anymore.'

"But he can't, Botan," Yusuke whispered. "Kurama can't stop fighting; he can't stop fighting for you. Not yet, not ever. He won't stop fighting for you until you come back." Returning his attention back to the battle, Yusuke added, "At least, that's how I feel about you, Botan. I hope Kurama feels the same."

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

Anima deviously grinned as she left the clearing where the priestess and Youko were battling their pasts. The demoness felt quite proud of herself, being able to complete another mission for her master; she especially felt proud for completing a mission that involved the Spirit Detectives. Ever since Urameshi Yusuke, Kurama, and Hiei had become Spirit Detectives, no demon had been safe.

"Master, the first part of your plan has been initiated. Now we must wait for the priestess to act accordingly, then we may begin the second part of your plan. Oh, great tidings do hatred offer to us."

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

Kurama did not move from his position, very much aware that Barako would kill him if she fired another arrow. "I loved you, Barako! No one means more to you than you, no one else!"

'He loves her.'

"Come back to me! Please, let us just be together."

'He could never love me.'

"Barako!"

With every word Kurama used to call Barako's heart back to him Botan felt a stabbing agony in hers. 'God, why did I ever believe him? Why did I ever believe you, Kurama? Why did I ever believe you loved me?' Botan began to distance herself away from her friends. 'Let me forget.'

Yusuke sensed something terribly wrong in the air. And somehow, Yusuke felt connection to the trouble; he felt a string attached to his own heart. He felt the string tug away, like someone begging at him for help. Yusuke looked down at the unconscious Botan; he was losing her. "Botan, don't let go! Don't give up! Get back here!"

'I want to forget him, forget my feelings for him.'

Yusuke grew more frantic as he could barely sense Botan's spirit around her body. Her soul was losing its connection to its physical body; and Yusuke deducted that death would come if that were to happen. The Spirit Detective felt his heart dive. "Botan! Don't you DARE give up!"

'Just disappear.'

"I'll kill you myself, Botan, if you die. DON'T DIE!" the young man yelled.

'My other half. Please, just disappear.'

"BOTAN!"

'I need to disappear.'

"Botan, if you die--" Yusuke could barely continue on; he did not want to think such thoughts. Tears threatened to spill. "Botan, Kurama is going to die if you don't stop Barako. You have to stop her and get your soul back!"

'Botan, please, don't give up. Not yet, just keep on living, please.'

Warmth, kindness, and love: this voice--this voice that was not Yusuke's gave Botan everything she ever wanted. It was giving her what she truly desired, except for one thing. 'Who are you? Stop telling me what to do! Leave me alone and let me die!'

'Botan, I love you so much. I love you so much I would die as soon as you did. Please, don't give up. Just come back, and I'll make everything hurtful go away.'

The familiar ringing was bringing back memories in Botan's mind, memories both pleasant and hurtful. How she wanted to make the painful memories to forever fade away. Botan did not want to live with the pain anymore. 'Who are you?'

'You know who I am, Botan. You've known me since the days you were Barako. I've been waiting so long for you, Botan, to return. I've been waiting so long for you.'

Recognition then struck Botan. 'You're--'

'People are waiting for you to come back, Botan. Your friends are all waiting for you to come back to them--Kurama is waiting for you to come back to him. They're fighting for you to come back. They're fighting so you can live again.'

'...'

'You may hate Kurama now, but you can forgive him and love him again. Just come back, Botan, and we'll see each other again. We'll see each other again, and I'll love you so much more just from looking at you. And from there, you can forget Kurama. You can forget and make new memories. Just come to me.'

'For you, then--I'll come back for you.'

"Kurama, I'm so sorry." Botan cried, her lips silently moving with her words. Yusuke, Kazuma, Mimiru, and Hinageshi gasped in surprise. They did not think without Botan's soul she could--

"Botan! Botan, can you hear me?" Yusuke shouted excitedly. He noticed color coming back to Botan's form. "Come on, Botan, don't die! I know you're stronger than this! I know you can make it through all of this!"

Opening her lifeless lavender orbs and staring deeply into Yusuke's chocolate pools, Botan whispered, "Kurama, I'm sorry. Forgive me." And at that moment, the Botan Kurama knew and loved died.

A soulless Botan, uneasily rising to her own feet, came face to face with the revived Barako. The two women, mirror images of themselves, stared at each other in silence. The younger was too lost to speak and the older was at lost of words.

Kurama felt sick inside when he realized how much two women he deeply cared for, two utterly different women, looked alike. Botan without her soul and Barako with her rage and hate: both women were empty, shells of what they once were, of who they used to be. "They look more alike now," Kurama murmured gravely, "then I had ever imagined."

"You can't have him."

Barako scrunched her face in surprise, the woman glaring at the younger lady before her. "What?"

"You can't have Kurama. I won't let you. I won't let you take Kurama away from this world."

Another blinding light, like from the beginning of the battle, surrounded the two priestesses. Everyone but the two women covered their eyes from the powerful glare. Botan's soul was returning to her own body.

"No! Why are you taking away what is mine?" Barako screamed as she hugged herself, trying someway to keep the soul within herself.

"No," Botan replied, her eyes relit with life. "You are taking what is MINE."

Fiery hate burned in Barako's lavender eyes as she slowly backed away from Botan. "Worthless wench. You have sealed your own fate by trusting this treacherous demon. We shall see who lives on in the end."

With that, Barako retreated into the forest nearby the caverns; however, Kurama was not too far behind her. "Barako, wait!"

The others would have followed, but Botan collapsed once again. "Botan!"

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

"Stay away from me, Kurama!"

Stumbling through the underbrush and through the thick forest, Barako feebly tried to escape Kurama; however, the priestess was no match for the fox thief's incredible agility and swift mobility.

"But Barako--"

Barako stopped in her movement, turned around, and faced Kurama. And as Barako froze, Kurama froze with her. The former loves stood at the edge of a cliff, the roaring of a waterfall as their sonata. "I want you back by my side, Kurama, but not like this. I cannot take you back as you are, in this form that I hate so much. When your soul is pure and mine again, then we shall be together. But until then--"

The ground unexpectedly fell away from beneath Barako's feet. Kurama barely had enough time to react as he grabbed for Barako's hand; he measly managed to grab the priestess' hand.

"Let me go, Kurama," Barako muttered.

Sweat dripping from his brow and his hand slowly slipping from the heavy moisture in the air, Kurama growled back, "I refuse!"

"Kurama, this is our fate."

"I will not let you go again!" Kurama snapped at the priestess, his golden eyes glazed over with anger, sadness, and anxiety. Barako could feel herself being mesmerized by the eyes that glared in her memory from her past. But before she lost herself in such memories, Barako shook herself out of her reverie.

"You shall be pulled over as well."

"Then let it be my fate with yours."

"No, it shall not be so."

Kurama golden eyes grew wider as his grip on Barako's hand began to loosen; he could feel her smooth, fragile but strong hands slipping slowly. Suddenly, Barako's hand separated itself entirely from Kurama's, and fear was seen etched into cold, familiar amethyst eyes as they disappeared into consuming fog.

"NO!"

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

"She's gone," Hiei muttered, his Jagan ceasing to glow. The fire demon emitted a sigh of relief. "That evil witch is finally dead and, hopefully, at peace; either that, or I hope she burns for eternity in Hell."

Kazuma, Hinageshi, and Mimiru stared at Hiei, the three somewhat disturbed.

Yusuke, looking at the shaking girl in his arms, whispered quietly, "Botan. Botan, it's all right. You're safe now. You're safe." Tears brimming his own mahogany eyes, Yusuke pulled Botan closer to him, the young man burying his face into Botan's soaked sky-blue hair. He felt like a brother whom had just found his long lost sister.

About then, Botan regained her consciousness. "Botan?" Yusuke questioned tentatively, brushing some of her sky blue hair away from her face.

"Yusuke?" Botan searched around, the girl feeling somewhat lost. She hugged Yusuke for assurance. "What's going on, Yusuke? Why are we in Maikai? And why are you crying?"

Yusuke's face grew blank when Botan's innocent eyes gazed at him curiously. Botan almost seemed like whom she was before she discovered the Sacred Jewel in her body. But how was that possible? Why? "Botan, do you remember what happened these last three days?"

Botan shook her head, seeing the fear in Yusuke's eyes. She placed a gentle hand on her friend's cheek "The last thing I remember is going out to hunt Sacred Jewel shards with Hiei and then falling asleep as soon as I reached home."

'She remembers that?' Hiei blushed as he remembered the revelations he had discovered during that hunt. Hiei's sudden withdrawal did not, however, go unnoticed by Hinageshi and Mimiru, which the two glanced at each other knowingly.

"But," Kazuma gaped, wide-eyed. "But that was a month ago, Botan!"

"A month ago?" Botan scrunched her eyes close and puckered her lips in a frustrated fashion. "I've been knocked out for a month?! Why didn't anyone try and wake me up?!"

Yusuke sighed and hugged Botan more securely. Young Urameshi shyly smiled as he held his bubbly assistant. "Forget it, Botan. You're back, and right now, that's all that matters."

Botan smiled as she returned Yusuke's hug. "This must be how Barako felt like, being once loved like this by all of her friends and family. I this a feeling like this could never be forgotten."

"No," Yusuke muttered beneath his breath, beyond anyone's sense of hearing. "Barako could never love anyone like you, Botan. And because of that, no one loved Barako like we love you. We'll never let you go without a fight."

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

"Are you sure you wish to take responsibility of this burden?"

"Do I honestly have a choice?"

"We could find another way."

"You could always just end it all."

"No, I'm going to fulfill my duty to protect the priestess and the Sacred Jewel."

"And atone for our ancestor's sins?"

"That duty is for everyone within the clan."

"No, not because of that. I want to protect her for something else."

"If not for atonement--"

"Then what?"

"Because I love her."

"No! It cannot be so!"

"But she's destined to--"

"I'll see to it that it shall not come to pass. I'll change all of fate if I must."

"But--"

"Lady Botan, she--"

"I betrayed her the first time. This time, nothing will separate me from her ever again. I will never hurt her again."

.::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::. .::.

AN: Sorry if this chapter seemed a little rushed or odd. I will go back and revise it even better as soon as I finish my other hanging stories (such as "What He Said, She Said").

Well, I would like to thank everyone for all of his or her support for this story. Not only that, I would also like to thank everyone for his or her comments, inspiration, flames, and anything else he or she offered. Everyone and everything has been a great help.

Oh, and I would like to apologize for my story being FAR too similar with Rumiko Takaishi's "Inu Yasha". Oi, I thought this story would be much more different than the inspiration, but I guess that is my second "season".

This story will continue with "Twice Met, Never Broken". See you later!