Hey minna! looks at update date
blushes furiously…

Er….. lara-chan is very, very, very, sorry about the long wait, but she promises to do better next time, ne?

And now, a word to my lovely reviews who rock my BEiNG!
Cricket-chan : Hehe, my feelings exactly, friend! Hope you like this chapter too!!
Botan and Kurama Lover : Glad you liked the fluff! For me, its what makes writing worth it! I just LOVE the fluffy stuff prob. Explains why all my stories are chocked full of it thankies for the nice review!! And thankies for making me update!!
JDfielding : WOW! Thank you! I feel so special, high praise!! Hehe, I'm glad you liked the Kuwabara bit, I thought it was a very 'him' thing to do. Hope you stick around for the next chappie!
Stratus5: hehe, your wish is my command…better late than never, ne?

PinkFlamingo22 : Thankies dear! Sorry the update took so long, it won't be such a long time next time, I promise!!

Deity of Roses : Arigatou!! I'm glad you found it cute and sweet, I love writing fluff, hehe. Hope you'll stick around for chappie 3!!
Rossi: Hehe, no problem. Here's the next chapter for ya!
kitsune16 :awww, I'm glad you liked it so much! Hopefully this chapter will meet your expectations too!! thankies for the review!!
 PaChElBeL : Aww, thankies! I'm glad you liked the fluffiness of it all! Hope you like this chapter too!
Gatesu Botan : I'm sooo sorry about the update dates being so far apart! forgive me?? I PROMISE that I'll try to make this one closer together!! Thanks for the support!
Desanera : AWW! Thanks so muchly! I'm happy that you're still enjoying it and hope that chappie three lives up to the chapters before it!!
Passionate Angel : ANNOUNCEMENT! Hehe, just for you, and just because you miss it, I've decided to do another chapter of my Combatants story and post it Tuesday. Do you feel special?? Hehe, thanks always for the continued support, Angel-chan!!
Eun-Jung : Why, thankies! Hope this chapter is as fun to read as it was to write!!
FuzzieEars67 : hehe, your wish is my command!! I hope this chapter was well worth the wait!!
Thornspike : Today, actually! Hehe, hope you enjoy it!!
Anonymous: eh, no reason to do that! I'm updating now!!

And ON WITH THE STORY!!

   It was a little shy of nine by the time that Kurama and Botan reached the Minamoto household, but every light in the house seemed to be on. Kurama lead Botan to the front stoop and released her arm while he struggled with his house key to open the front door. Finally, it clicked and was unlocked. He was just about to push the wooden door all the way open when Botan placed a hand on his outstretched forearm.

   "You're sure it's alright?" She stared up at him expectantly.

   Right then, Kurama had the strangest desire to bend down and kiss Botan on her forehead. She looked so cute, standing there in his jacket with the hair falling out around her face. Her pink eyes were turned up towards his, searching for acceptance and reassurance. However, he refrained from reaching out to her, afraid he would startle her.

   "Yes, I'm sure." And with that, he led her inside, locking the door behind him. "Mother!" He half yelled. "Guess who I brought home?"

   Mrs. Minamoto stuck her head out of the upstairs bathroom and walked over to the landing that was above the main entranceway. "Who?" she was looking down and not paying a lot of attention to what was going on.

   "Look."

   "Botan-chan!" She smiled as she briskly walked over to the stairs and hurried down them. Botan found herself embraced in a warm hug, the smell of Chanel perfume wafting into her nostrils.

   "Mrs. Minamoto, it's nice to see you!" she said warmly.

   "She's here on vacation for four days. I found her wandering around the park, she has nowhere to stay, mother."

   Mrs. Minamoto frowned. "Well, that's awfully ridiculous of you, Shuuichi. You know she can stay here." Kurama smiled and Botan looked a bit shocked. "Now, dear," Mrs. Minamoto began talking again. "The guest room is off of the den towards the right. You just make yourself at home for as long as you need to." the older woman smiled like a perfect mother on a television program.

   "I- Thank you, Mrs. Minamoto." Botan had never been treated with such kindness in all her life. Then again, few people do show the harbinger of death much kindness… Usually when Botan was invited into a house, lots of yelling, crying, and maybe a court case often accompanied her.

   "I'll show you the guest room." Kurama began walking in the direction of the den, when suddenly, something ran down the stairs and came flying in the direction of Botan.

   "BOOOOOTAN!" it screamed as it flew into Botan's outstretched arms.

   "Mizuki!" Botan squealed with delight as she brushed back the soft raven hair of the little girl, Kurama's four year old step sister. She was wearing her Winnie the Pooh pajamas with footies and she smiled brightly at the ferry girl in front of her. Mizuki clasped her hands around Botan's neck and gave her a slobbery kiss on the cheek.

   "Botan-chan, I've missed you! You've been away so long!"

   "I know, Mi-chan… I've missed you too." The little girl made Botan feel perfect about the world around her.

   "Now, Mizuki, it's time for all good little girls to be in bed. You can see Botan-chan in the morning, okay?" Mrs. Minamoto pried the little girl off of Botan and placed her down on the floor.

   "Aww, mom, do I hafta?"

   "Have to, Mizuki." Interjected Kurama, the King of Correct Grammar Usage.

   Mizuki pouted and ignored her older brother. "Well, if you're gonna make me go to bed, can Botan-chan at least tell me a story or somethin?"

   Mrs. Minamoto gave a pleading glance to Botan, the glance of a mother who is thoroughly exhausted after dealing with a four-year-old for fourteen hours straight.

   "Of course!" Botan's face lit up as she grabbed the little girl's hands. "I'd love to!" Mizuki began pulling her up the stairs. "C'mon, K- uh, Shuuichi!"

   Kurama let out a sigh, but at his mother's chiding, trekked upstairs towards his step-sister's room. By the time he reached it, Botan had already turned off all the lights and was sitting in a rocking chair with Mizuki in her lap.

   Kurama closed the door behind him and flicked on Mizuki's   small Tigger night light. Then, he slid over behind the rocking chair, slowly rocking it back and forth with his hands.

   "All right, Mi-chan, what kind of story?" Botan asked.

   "Well, first ya hafta start with 'Once upon a time'."

   "Ahem, Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived the most beautiful, stunning, kind, and generous…. Kind and generous…"

   "Fairy!" Mizuki shouted. Botan blushed, 'ughh, so close to ferry girl,' she thought. Kurama merely chuckled.

   "And her name was…" Botan began again.

   "And her name was Botan." The voice had come from behind the rocking-chair, from a smiling kitsune. Botan felt a little flushed…and a little like she was going to faint at the mention of herself being beautiful and stunning.

   "Yeah, Botan! And she was controlled by a mean and evil king who made her work all the time!" Mizuki shouted, her face turned up towards the real, live ferry girl.

   "And his name was Koenma-Sama." Kurama was having entirely too much fun with this, Botan just laughed.

   Then, Mizuki took off on her own tangent. "Until one day, until one day, she met a handsome knight in the forest by the name of…"

   "By the name of Kurama." Botan finished, Kurama blushed this time. Mizuki turned her head to the side.

   "Sure is a funny name, isn't it, Shuuichi?" Mizuki asked.

   "Mmmhmm."

   Botan was finally getting the hang of this storytelling thing. All she had to do was tell what a normal day as a spirit detective was like. It was as simple as that. She had gone through half the dark tournament when Mizuki finally dropped off, but she kept talking melodically until she was sure the little girl was asleep.

   "I think she's gone." Whispered Kurama. Botan nodded. Slowly, she stood up from the rocking chair and cradled the girl in her arms. Kurama pulled down the comforter on her bed and Botan laid her down between the soft sheets. Then, the two of them tucked her in.

   It struck Botan that she and Kurama were acting just like…just like a couple.

   They stood over the child's bed, Kurama standing behind Botan with his hands resting lightly on her shoulders. The comforter rose and fell with each breath and it made Botan smile. When they were sure the little girl wouldn't awaken, the two left. Since it was only around 10 o'clock and they weren't at all tired, the pair retreated to Kurama's room.

   The smell of roses was so beautifully refreshing in Kurama's bedroom, it evoked senses that Botan didn't know she had. She fell back on his bed, on his soft comforter and snuggled into a warm ball.

   "Mind if I do some schoolwork?" Kurama said as he turned on his computer.

   "Nope."

   A few seconds of silence enveloped the two, then Botan spoke. "Why do you trust me with her?"

   "What?" Kurama turned around in his swivel chair to face Botan. He set his feet on the bed and leaned back.

   "Kurama, I'm a messenger of death. Why do you trust me with your little sister? She's too, too precious. I mean, how can you allow me to touch her knowing that one day…" Botan's words trailed off, it was just too horrible to say.

   "…Botan. That's your job." He stood up and plopped down on the bed beside her, laying on his back and staring up at the ceiling. "You are what you are and I respect and like you for that."

   She turned over towards him, tears flecking her eyes. "R- really?" He nodded and she turned back on her other side.

   "Besides, Botan, she loves you. After your last visit, she begged for weeks to be able to dye her hair blue like yours."

   Botan gave a snort in reply. "Hn. She can have it. I hate it."

   "What?" Kurama questioned in a shocked tone.

   "It makes me different, Kurama. It makes me strange here in the human world and sets me apart from you all even more than I already am. If I was normal, I-"

   Kurama cut her off. "You can't speculate about that, trust me. I spent half my life wondering what exactly it would be like to be normal. And eventually, you have to reach a point where you are happy with yourself or you'll just drive yourself crazy." He let out a long sigh and Botan's shoulders shuddered as if she was softly crying.

   "And Botan?"

   "Hmm?" She muffled a yes.

   "I love your hair…okay? It's perfect."

   Botan inhaled sharply and turned around to face him. Tears had made stains on her cheeks. Kurama raised his hand and whisked them away, then brushed the stray hairs out of her face.

   "Perfect." He repeated again.

   "T..t..thank you." She finally managed to stutter, as touched as she was. Botan turned back over again and silence once again befell the two. A few minutes later, Kurama spoke again.

   "Botan?" He waited for an answer, but received none. He kept on talking anyway. "Botan, I think I'm falling in love with you."

   She didn't move. He raised up to see what was the matter and peered over at her. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was light, yet he knew she was in a very deep, relaxing sleep. He smiled.

   Kurama grabbed a pillow from the near the headboard and placed it under Botan's head. He then pulled the comforter around her and tucked her in nice and snug. Standing over her, he bent his head near hers, his lips almost touching hers, and then decided against it.

   "Goodnight, beautiful fairy." Kurama said quietly as he shut off the lights and closed the door of his room behind him. He would sleep in the guest room tonight.

   She waited a good five minutes and then gingerly opened one of her eyes. Crossing the room as quietly as a shadow, Botan opened a window that was behind Kurama's computer and peered out into the night air.

   "Hello?" her voice was just above a whisper.

   "You're quite an actress." A voice replied, a voice that was everywhere and nowhere at once. It's razor edged sharpness made Botan shiver. "If that was acting."

   "Oh, it was acting alright."  

   "Good, I would hate to see you fall in love over this." The voice said the word 'love' with considerable bite.

   Botan chuckled. "I thought we already had this discussion, an ice queen such as myself doesn't fall in love so easily."

   "See to it that you don't, otherwise…"

   Botan raised an eyebrow. "Otherwise what?"

   "Otherwise, I might just have to break off our little deal."

   "You leave Koenma-sama alone! Lay one finger on him and the whole deal is off!"

   "So you mean to say that if… Oh, I don't know… the big blue ogre suddenly found himself pointing a long, sharp, serrated sword into Koenma-sama's back, you-"

   "Don't you dare!"

   "-d be angry?"

   "I told you," Botan's voice was a harsh whisper now. "I told you I'd help you! I told you I'd lure Youko Kurama into your little trap for you if you left Koenma-Sama alone. You need me, so don't act like you don't!"

   "I don't need you, Botan. You overestimate your importance." The voice was getting closer and closer to the windowsill. "You are simply the woman that Youko takes a liking to now. In six months it may be someone else entirely. All I need is for Youko to confess his love to someone and that someone allow me to 'capture' them so I can lure Youko to my lair."

   "And then you'll kill him."

   "That's none of your concern. You're concerned about, 'Koenma-sama', remember?"

   A frustrated sigh escaped from Botan's lips. "Kuronue, I swear, touch my boss and I'll-"

   "You'll what, beat me with your oar? You are in no position to bargain, my dear ferry girl. One little slip up from you and the ogre lets your 'boss' have it."

   "Why are you torturing me like this?" Botan cried. "I've given you every shred of decency I had as a credible person, I'm betraying my friends, isn't that enough to prove my allegiance to you?"

   "I'm simply reminding you, Ice Queen. We could have had him tonight. He was on the verge of confessing his love to you and I could have 'captured' you in the morning. He would have been dead by nightfall. So Ice Queen," Kuronue's voice was rigid now. "You tell me, WHY did you pretend to fall asleep? Was it because you're beginning to have FEELINGS for this man?"

   Botan jumped back from the window. "No…. But if he confesses on the first day, then it's not much of a test for me, now is it?"

   "This is my game, not yours."

   "And how do you know your little game is going to follow the rules you've laid out for it?"

   "I knew Kurama would be in the park, didn't I? I knew he would stop you when you tried to fly away, didn't I? I told you exactly what to say to him to gain admittance into his home, didn't I? This 'Kurama' is still Youko, and I know Youko better than Youko knows himself."

   The tension was thicker than the air. It weighed heavily on Botan.

   "Don't defy me again." Kuronue's long finger came in through the window and began caressing Botan's cheek. She tried to shut the widow on it, but it moved too quickly. Hurriedly, she locked the window and flew onto Kurama's bed, covering her head with the comforter. "I hate him." She whispered.

   But she knew it was not Kuronue she hated. It was herself. When Kuronue arrived to talk to her the first time, and to threaten Koenma's life, she said she would give him whatever he wanted. Back then, she was sure she loved Koenma-sama with all her heart. But now, just a few hours and Kurama had played the harp of herself with such grace and mastery as if he owned it. Had she done something horrible and made the wrong choice? Had she condemned to death the one she loved and saved the one who merely looked appealing at first glance? She couldn't bear to think of it. Shutting her eyes, she recalled again the feeling of Kurama's hand upon her cheek and cried.

   He had made her love her hair…solely for the purpose that he loved it also. The pillow muffled her tears all night long.

   Outside in a near tree, Kuronue was watching. "The fox knows too much. He must die by the hounds. Why did you have to resurface, Youko? If you would've stayed put, you could have gone on living as you were. But I have to think of myself first. A man should have to fake his own death only once."

Well, Minna? Liked it? Hated it? TELL ME! Reviews [and flames] are both greatly appreciated!! Thankies for the time!
larachan