People are eager to read the chapter, so I'll keep things short.
Always, thank you, reviewers, for your support and encouragement. I
write for you! Thank you for 1600+ hits as well!
Final chapter! After much work and blood, this piece is now at last finished! I hope everyone enjoys the final chapter of "What He Said, She Said."
What He Said She Said
Three years had passed since Kurama's departure from Japan and Botan's renewed resolve to better her self. With Yusuke, Keiko, and Kazuma, Botan graduated her third year of high school and entered the real world. Yusuke, not continuing his education, apprenticed beneath the Yukimura's and worked hard in their small but thriving noodle shop. Botan, Keiko, and Kazuma attended the city's university, each trying his or her best to make his or her place in the world.
"Onee-chan," a crimson-haired girl mumbled while gobbling down her breakfast, "did 'kaa-san and 'tou-san call last night?"
Watching her little sister amusedly, Botan replied, "No, they didn't. But don't worry, they'll be here on time for the engagement party." She removed her apron and prepared to leave for the university. "There is no way they would miss Yusuke's engagement party, especially after all the effort they put into organizing it."
The younger girl nodded all too eagerly, gulping down a glass of water. Botan smiled, pleased her little sister now lived with her. After Botan's high school graduation, Hinageshi had been permitted to live with her older sister and cousin. Now in her second year of high school, Hanasaki Hinageshi was a regular Sarayashiki girl.
Her food finished, Hinageshi started gulping down her water. "Onee-chan, when were Yusuke 'nii-chan and Keiko 'nee-chan getting married again?"
Shaking her head at her sister's forgetfulness, Botan answered, "In six months, Hina-chan. They want to get married during summer and spend their honeymoon in Hawaii." Looking at her watch, she quickly added, "Now you better hurry or else you'll be late to school."
"Wah!" Hinageshi exclaimed, grabbing her school bag and running out the front door. "Bye, 'nee-chan! Thank you for the breakfast! I'll see you later tonight!" While dashing out of the front gate, the young lady ran into another person and quickly apologized. "Sorry, Keiko 'nee-chan!"
"Heh, Hina-chan seems to be in hurry today," a brunette woman mused while entering the house. "Did she wake up late again?"
"Yeah," Botan giggled, cleaning up Hinageshi's dishes. "She and Yusuke are alike like that." She took a tray filled with an empty rice bowl and various side dishes to the kitchen in one trip.
"Well, the house seems in better shape," the newcomer remarked thoughtfully, looking around the house. She wiped a finger against the coffee table in the living room. "Much cleaner than yesterday."
"Already planning on moving in, Keiko-chan?" Botan teased as she left the kitchen. She grabbed her bag while walking towards the door. "You still have six months, you know."
Yukimura sighed hopelessly as she shrugged. "Six months to plan my entire wedding, honeymoon, and move. How in the world am I supposed to accomplish all of that, Botan-chan?"
Laughing slightly, the sky haired girl assured, "It'll work out in the end."
Seeing she could not argue with her friend, Keiko took one last look inside before stepping out with Botan. She frowned at what would happen in six months. "But how are all of us going to live here? I know I would be robbing someone of their space."
Locking the front door, Botan grinned cheerily, "Hinageshi and I share my room. Once you and Yusuke marry, you'll move into Oba-san's room while she moves into Yusuke's old room. That fills the three rooms we have available." She walked out the front gate and smiled at Keiko as she followed. "When you and Yusuke start thinking about kids, then we'll worry about who we're kicking out of the house."
The young lady blushed at the mention of children and decisively changed the subject. "Out of curiosity, why are you out so early, Botan-chan?" she managed to stutter. "Your classes don't start until later in the day."
"Oh, I have some people to meet before then." Reaching the bus stop, the two ladies parted ways. While Keiko waited with other bus riders, Botan continued down the sidewalk toward another residential area in the district. "Bye, Keiko-chan! I'll see you later at home!"
"And your parents don't know?"
"No, and I don't know how they're going to take it when they find out," Botan sighed as she playfully bounced a baby on her knee. The little baby gurgled in a pleased manner, happy with the bright face before her. "You don't have to worry about this kind of stuff, do you, Yukari-chan? You're too young to have this problem, ne?"
Shizuru chuckled while she watched Botan play with her infant daughter. Leaning back in her seat comfortably, the new mother chuckled, "I'm surprised anything surprises your parents, Botan-chan. With all that you've been through, I thought they'd be prepared for anything, at least more accepting to the fact that Hina-chan has a boyfriend."
A light-blue head shook from side to side, a wry grin on her face. "They're prepared for any type of boyfriend except for a normal one." Botan wagged her face in front of Yukari, causing the baby to giggle and play with the bouncing blue locks. "They thought Hina-chan would follow her 'nee-chan's steps and pick a wild one, or at least one with a few pierces and a tattoo."
"That far out, huh?" Shizuru chuckled.
After a moment more of playing, Botan handed Shizuru her daughter and kindly asked, "How are you and Sakyou-san doing?"
"Oh, we're doing fine," Shizuru grinned happily, rocking her baby gently. "He's a bit stressed from work, but after some days of rest, he'll be feeling better. He's not as young as he used to be, you know." Nuzzling her child's face, Shizuru murmured amusedly, "Otou-san just wants to stay home and play with you, Yukari-chan."
"I'm glad you and Sakyou-san are doing well. It's good to be happy with the one you love."
The older woman gave her friend a thoughtful look and asked, "What about you, Botan-chan? Are you doing all right? Have you received anything lately?"
"Oh, I got a letter last month," she answered cheerily. "He said he would be done with his studies soon and promised that he would be living in Japan by next year. Things are about to get busy again, so he said he might not be able to send another letter or call again soon."
"Is this long distance relationship really working for you?" Shizuru wondered. Honey-colored eyes filled with worry and concern stared at Botan pensively. "The two of you haven't seen each in four years, and you haven't dated anyone else since. How are you so sure he hasn't seen anyone else while he's been in the States?"
"I trust him," Botan grinned. "Besides, Shuuichi-chan and Shiori-san are wonderful spies, and they make it a point to tell me what he's doing in between." Looking down at her watch Botan gasped in surprise. "Wah! I've been here for too long." She started collecting her belongings and rushed to the door. "I have to go now."
Calmly standing up and escorting her friend to the door, Shizuru waved goodbye to the young woman. Sixteen-month old Yukari unintentionally waved farewell the guest as well. "Bye, Botan-chan."
"Take care, Shizuru 'nee-san, Yukari-chan!" Botan blew the two an affectionate kiss. "I'll see you sometime next week!"
As Botan left, Kazuma's old gang walked past her and quickly greeted her. The old schoolmates traded hellos and promised to catch up another time. The young men then spend into Shizuru's home, the woman yelling, "You're late! Hurry up and grab Yukari-chan's stuff so we can go shopping. Jeez, what kind of babysitters are you guys?"
"We're sorry, Shizuru-sama!"
Her book bag slung over her shoulder, Botan ran down the sidewalks, praying she did not miss her appointment. Luckily enough, when she spotted the café across the street, her friends sat at a table waiting patiently. "I'm sorry I'm late," Botan gasped for air while she took a seat at the table.
"It's all right, Botan-san," Mukuro excused kindly. Brushing some auburn hair from her cerulean eyes, the woman added, "We just arrived here five minutes ago, so it wasn't a long wait." She nudged Hiei to do give Botan a greeting, but he gave a grunt instead.
'He's getting better,' Botan smiled nervously. For the last few years, she had grown to know Hiei through Yukina and Kuronue; however, Jaganshi did not favor Botan's chipper personality. Thus, Hiei pointedly stated he did not like Botan.
"I'm sorry, Botan-san," Akiyuki apologized.
"It's all right," the young lady smiled. "At least he acknowledged me today."
Ignoring Botan's comment, Hiei muttered, "Did you see the headlines?"
When Botan shook her head, Hiei civilly handed her the morning paper. "Wah, is this Koenma-senpai and Ayame 'nee-chan?" Botan gasped while her amethyst eyes grew big. "Daioh Koenma, president of Daoih Enterprises, and Kinamoto Ayame, daughter of Kinomoto Corporation's CEO, announced their engagement last night," Botan read from the paper. "But their engagement was not the largest surprise in store for that night. By deciding to unite in matrimony, Daioh-dono and Kinamoto-dono ends the centuries-old feud between their families, formally the legendary Sarayashiki and Meiou Clans."
"I'm impressed they announced it at the dinner party last night," Mukuro chuckled, resting her chin on the back of her hand. "All the biggest names in Japan were at that banquet. A very bold move for the both of them."
"Daioh Enma looked like he was going to have a heart attack," Hiei mused with a smirk. "And some of the Kinomoto's fainted." Although he held no particular grudge against the opposing clans, Hiei generally did not like high-class families. Aristocracy had left a bad impression upon him.
"How are Koenma-senpai and Ayame 'nee-chan doing?" Botan asked worriedly.
"They're doing fine. And there's no reason for you to worry, Botan-san," Mukuro assured. She closed her eyes and smiled serenely, an image Botan related to Ayame. "Koenma-san owns enough of the company, so his father can't disown him without losing everything. Ayame-san's father admires her far too much to do anything to her, so she'll be all right as well."
"I see." Her worries rested, Botan continued looking through the paper, surprised by the articles. Having been introduced to Kuronue's friends two years ago, she recognized Chuu in a picture standing in front of a youth center. Apparently, he had been appointed as the new head coach there. On the reverse, Hiigarashi Genkai, National Martial Arts Champion for three years straight, with her skilled partner Toguro Ototo had opened a training school for junior high and high school students. Flipping to the next page, the young lady noticed articles on Shishiwakumaru and Suzuki, the hottest models in Japan's fashion enterprise. In media, Kitajima Maya's portrait appeared, the young woman starring in another blockbuster film. Botan grinned when she read about Maya's two-year relationship with a handsome co-actor and their coming engagement.
"Have you received any news from Kurama lately?" Hiei asked sharply, interrupting Botan's reading.
"Only the letter from last month," she replied somewhat dolefully. She put the paper down and looked at Hiei while speaking to him. "I think Kuronue-kun recently got a phone call, but I haven't seen him for months. What is Kuronue-kun up to now?"
"Like hell I would know," Hiei grunted, crossing his arms and watching people pass by. "Knowing him, he's probably at home right now keeping house while his wife is at school."
"Or he could be right here serving your table."
Turning around, the trio faced a familiar smirking man dressed in the café uniform. Behind them stood Shinomori Kuronue, as tall as ever, his hair tied back into a high ponytail. He looked crisp and dashing, earning the admiration of drooling women. "Kuronue-kun, are you working here? Is it all right?" Botan greeted instantly. "How are you and Momoko-chan doing?"
"Fine, fine," Kuronue grinned kindly, answering all of Botan's questions with one word. Pointedly ruffling Hiei's already unruly hair, Shinomori smirked, "At least I know how to keep house, Short One. Yukina-san must be frustrated from cleaning after you for these last few years."
"Just shut up and get me coffee," Hiei snapped with a cold glare.
Giving his friend a mocking bow, Kuronue turned to his other customers and politely asked, "And what would the ladies like? Something to drink or snack on?"
"Some cold green tea, please," Mukuro replied. "And if you have them, a fruit tart."
"Orange juice, if you have any," Botan quipped all too happily.
Kuronue gave them a salute and left for their orders. "Right away."
"So, did you two skip out another meeting to meet with me?" Botan asked Hiei and Mukuro curiously. "If you keep doing that, poor Miyori-san will have to retire early. She's much too young for all the stress you give her, disappearing suddenly like you do."
"Miyori-san knew what we would do. We told her days in advance," Mukuro assured warmly. "It's mainly Toto-san Hiei keeps on the edge."
Not even bothering to open his eyes, Jaganshi growled, "It's the greedy bastard's fault that he can't keep up with us. Serves him right, especially after him yelling at Yukina." Hiei would have muttered profane expressions about his stepfather, but Kuronue returned with everyone's drinks and Mukuro's tart. The tall lad wanted to stay and chat; however, he was working, so he promised to talk with everyone another time.
"How is Yukina-chan doing?" Botan asked eagerly. Seeing that talking about business upset Hiei, Hanasaki tactfully geared the subject to something more pleasant. "She sent me postcards while she was in Europe last year, but I haven't heard much from her since."
"She's studying fashion design in Tokyo right now," Hiei answered. "She's been doing well for a student, and her professors are thinking about debuting her work in the next show they have." A small smirk lit the young man's face. "Suzuki and Shishi promised to model for her if that happened."
"That'll be something," Mukuro chuckled, taking a forkful of her tart.
Botan sighed while slurping some of her juice. "I just don't understand why she stayed in Europe for so long. A year away from home is much too long for Yukina-chan. I wonder what she was doing during all that time."
Hiei said nothing while he stirred his hot drink. After a moment, he muttered, "She was looking for answers."
"What kind of answers?"
"To her heart."
A beautiful young lady, sitting on a park bench, skillfully sketched the children playing in front of her. She kept a sharp eye on the young ones, watching how their clothes moved and bent and what color a majority of them wore. Staring to the side, she glanced at the parents and noted their clothing as well. With her style in mind, the lady thought of designs that would best fit a natural setting. Suddenly, a head of bright red-orange hair caught her attention.
'Could it be him?'
The person stopped in his movements and stared at the lady's way. Apparently, he recognized her as well. "Yukina?"
Her scarlet eyes grew wide, her prediction proving true. "Jin?"
"Yukina, what a surprise to see you here," Jin grinned, walking to the seated young lady. "It's been a while, hasn't it? Two years now, is it?" The years had been kind to Jin, Yukina noted. He had grown taller since high school, and his hair was slightly tamed; his build was lanky, broad, and pleasantly masculine; the dark suit he wore only enhanced his appearance. But his cerulean eyes—They reflected the vastness of open sky as they had years ago, but they no longer possessed their laughing, twinkling charm. The azure orbs marked pain and sadness.
"Where have you been all this time?" Yukina questioned while putting away her sketches. Doing so, she made room for Jin and urged him to take a seat beside her.
"Here and there, mostly Europe," Jin replied, accepting Yukina's invitation. "Jaganshi Tech hired me to be a representative in the West while Touya became an agent for the East. Today is actually my first time back in two years." Looking at Yukina, he asked, "How have you been doing?"
'She must be doing well with how she looks,' he mused silently. Two years apart had only made Yukina lovelier than before. She gained some height but nothing too great; her features had softened and grown slender, adding to her natural grace. Everything seemed to revolve around her, and her very clothes seemed made for her. Not even Jin's imagination could do better.
"I'm doing all right," she replied as evenly as she could. Three minutes into the encounter and already her emotions were threatening to break loose. "I entered designer school, and my work will debut in about two weeks."
"I read about that," Jin grinned with an encouraging smile. Yukina truly was beautiful. "I'm excited for you."
"Where did you read about it?"
Pulling out a magazine from his jacket, Jin opened it to a marked page. The page seemed somewhat worn, as if it had been read several times over again. Inside displayed Yukina's picture and an extensive article. "You've caught the world's attention, Yukina, in more ways than one. Everyone's wondering if a delicate beauty like you can survive in the competitive fashion industry."
'And they'll learn you're the strongest of them all,' Jin smirked inwardly. He replaced the magazine back into his jacket, reminding himself to clip the article and to place it in a scrapbook later.
"Jin," Yukina finally sighed quietly, "I've really missed you."
Her words, as sweet and glorious as they were, cut deeply into Jin's heart. He had done something cruel to her, but it had been for her sake. Nevertheless, he was not excused for hurting her. "I've missed you too, Yukina," he managed to mutter in reply.
"Then why didn't you come and see me?" Yukina demanded abruptly, turning all her attention towards him. "You knew I was in Europe during that time, so why didn't you come and see me? Why didn't you visit me, Jin?"
Jin sighed deeply. Yes, he had known where Yukina had been the entire time, thanks to Hiei. Jin had not visited Yukina for many reasons, but the best reasons he had he could not tell. He could not tell her during his time in Europe he had been with doctors searching for a cure. He could not tell Yukina that he wanted to marry her, have a family with her, and love her for the rest of his life. Saying such things would lead to the fact that Jin's life would only last three more years. In his mind, Yukina deserved to have one husband, one who would grow old with her and breathe his last as she did.
"I was told your boyfriend was with you, so I thought it would be awkward if I saw you." He gave Yukina a sheepish and awkward smile, one similar he had given her all those years ago. "Didn't want my feelings intruding on anyone else's, especially another guy's."
"I didn't have a boyfriend then, Jin."
He chuckled at her quick reply and answered with his own, "But you do now."
Yukina blushed, stunned how much Jin knew about her present status. Had Hiei told Jin about her life? Or did Jin just know her too well? 'But why is it that I don't know anything about him? Why is Jin pushing me away? Why can't we be happy together? Could it be—' Her phone rang, barging into her solitary thoughts. Digging into her purse, Yukina brought out her old phone, the first and only phone she owned. Jin fought back all reaction when he saw the charm dangling from the device.
"Kazuma-kun!" Yukina greeted with a warm smile. "Where are you right now—Oh, you're already at the train station? Okay, I'll meet you at there. All right. Bye."
Rising from his seat, Jin grinned as merrily as he could, "Give Kuwabara-san my regards."
"How long will you be staying in Japan?" Yukina asked as she stood with him. "Will you have time to visit?"
"I—" Jin stepped closer to Yukina, his face nearing hers. Her heart began beating wildly, her mind going back four years prior and the single intimate moment they had shared. Disappointingly, Jin's lips made contact with her cheek. But they lingered there, if only for a second. "Be happy with him, Yukina," he whispered with a sad smile. Jin then disappeared into the crowd.
Their relationship completely severed, Yukina stood alone in the park and cried. In the end, Jin had refused to be with her and had pushed her towards happiness with another. She did not realize that would be her last time seeing Jin. Yukina would hear nothing about Jin until three years later, when he was nothing but a bittersweet memory.
Botan groaned as she planted herself onto the couch. She had just returned from an exhausting class but felt grateful it had been her last. Knowing she could not stay in the living room for long, she hauled herself upstairs and into her shared room. She tossed her belongings into a corner and pulled a shoebox from beneath her bed. Opening it, the young lady shuffled through numerous hand-written letters, cards, tapes, and printed e-mails.
Picking out one tape, Botan placed it in her tape player and settled herself against the bed. She pushed the "play" button and sorted through some letters to read. In a matter of seconds, an elegant, masculine voice filled the room.
"Today is July 4th at 9:30 p.m. in New York City, Botan," it chuckled. A smile grew on Botan's expression as she listened to Kurama's wonderful voice. "But it'll already be July 5th there, about 12:30 in the afternoon. Some of my classmates and I are in Central Park right now, and we're waiting for fireworks. Apparently, today is the day the States declared their independence from Britain hundreds of years ago, thus today is called Independence Day. It's a huge holiday here, and everyone in the States gets a break for one day because of it."
Kurama's voice then grew distant and foreign, a number of other voices speaking to him in the background. Since they spoke English, Botan could only catch some words here and there. The bits she understood were "Hi, Syuuichi's girlfriend!" and "Syuuichi misses you!" and "I think you're hot!" Although, she did not quite understand what the last phrase meant. The term, Kurama embarrassingly explained during a phone call, meant his friend had found Botan highly attractive. Of course, Kurama did not approve of the comment, and Hanasaki did not know what her boyfriend served his friend as fitting punishment. But Shuuichi had reported later on none of Syuuichi's friends commented about Botan further than friendly.
Suddenly, loud banging resonated from the recording, Kurama saying loudly in awe, "The fireworks are starting, Botan! I wish you were here to see them with me! They look like enormous flowers in the sky, and one of them was the same color as your eyes." Pictures had arrived with the tape, and Botan gazed at them now, admiring the brilliant flowers of flares against midnight blue and New York City.
After a few more minutes of conversation and telling her what had happened to him as of late, Kurama realized the tape was at its ends. "I have to go now, Botan, but I'll call you soon. I can't wait to listen to your voice again, even if I do listen to your tapes often: too often according to some people." He let out a small chuckle. "We'll see each other soon. I love you."
What he said, she said as well.
"I love you, too, Kurama."
Abruptly, Hinageshi's voice sounded through the house. "Onee-chan! Onee-chan, you have to hurry!" The high school girl bounded into the room, her school bag and clothes bag in tow. "Oi! Look at you. You're not even half ready yet! We better hurry or we'll be late."
"What are you talking about?" Botan demanded while her little sister pushed her to the vanity and began undoing the elder's hair. "Hina-chan, what in the world do you think you're doing?"
"We can't do much with your hair, since it's so long now. You'll just have to wear it down," the little redhead sighed hopelessly. She pulled out a shimmering black gown from the clothes bag and placed it neatly on top of the bed. "Hurry and put this on. Matching shoes are in the closet and matching jewelry is in my box."
When Hinageshi rushed out of the room, Botan followed her orders quizzically. What was going on?
Like Hinageshi said, matching shoes and jewelry were in their places. Quickly, Botan dressed herself and placed a tad of make up on, reminding her of Kenji and Shiori's wedding ten months prior. She had prepared herself extra special that day, hoping she would see Kurama after so long; however, his flight had been delayed, causing him to miss the wedding. Unfortunately, the next day when he did arrive in Japan, Botan had to pay respects to a deceased family member on the other end of the country.
'Strange that I'm thinking of that now,' Botan giggled, brushing back her hair with her hand. Gazing at her sky locks, the twenty year old realized her sister had been right. Her hair was too long to do anything fancy. 'I wonder what Kurama will think of it?'
"Are you done?" Hinageshi asked when she entered the room. Surprisingly, she had changed from her school uniform to a cute short dress with many ribbons and frills, something that fit perfectly with her innocent demeanor. "Wah, Onee-chan, you're so beautiful!"
Botan's sable gown fit her perfectly, accenting her slender features and lending her a mystique air. Sky locks flowed like water and framed Botan's lovely features, brightening her black dress. "Why are we dressed up like this?" Botan asked curiously while stepping down the stairs. Hinageshi tossed her a matching purse and started pushing her out of the front door. "Where are we going, Hina-chan?"
"Don't you remember the engagement party we promised to go to today?" the young girl demanded ruefully as she dragged her sister along.
A light went off in Botan's mind. "But I don't even know who the party is for! Keiko-chan and Yusuke were the ones invited, since it is their friends."
"They said we were coming too. Our names were included with the invitation," Hinageshi explained. "Look! There's our ride now!" A black limousine with a matching driver waited for the two girls outside.
"Kuronue-kun?" Botan mouthed in surprise.
"Hello. I got off my day job," the young man saluted cheerfully. "I'm so glad you're my assignment for tonight." He opened the door and helped the ladies into the vehicle. Immediately after, he started the car and drove away.
While driving to their destination, Botan demanded inquisitively, "Kuronue-kun, do you know where we're going?"
"I don't know," he shrugged with a Kuronue-like grin. "I just got hired to drive—and you know me. An offered job is a job."
"I'll check us in," Hinageshi smiled as she and Botan entered the grand hotel.
Once the Hanasaki sisters had exited the limousine, Kuronue had driven off while muttering about being late for his next job. As Hinageshi disappeared walking towards the front desk, Botan stood frozen in admiration and awe. Everything sparkled and glittered with grandeur, declaring its high-class status. Botan waited in the enormous lobby until a uniformed man approached her. "Would you be Hanasaki Botan-san for the engagement party?"
"Ah, yes, but—"
"Your sister has already been escorted to the party," the attendant smiled. "I was sent to lead you to the proper area. Please, follow me, Hanasaki-san."
Noting the young man's uniform and his official air, Botan trusted him and complied. "Thank you." She followed him into the elevator, and the guide pushed a button located in the middle of the panel. While they rode upwards to the floor, Botan thought of what she would write to Kurama when she returned home.
Would she say the party was fun, that several young men had asked her to dance but she had refused? 'That wouldn't be nice, making Kurama jealous,' Botan giggled to herself. 'But it's not like does that to me, sending me pictures of other girls flocking around.' In Kurama's favor, though, in each photo he seemed fairly uncomfortable with the mass of women surrounding him.
The elevator came to a stop and the guide motioned for the young lady to follow him. They walked down a hall and took a left and stopped at the second door to their right. "Here you are, Hanasaki-san," the escort smiled, opening a door for Botan. "I hope you enjoy your time here." Without another word, the uniformed lad disappeared.
Cautiously, Botan entered the darkened room. Something was not right. She did not think engagement parties, especially if held in a large, classy hotel, would be held in a personal suite. Normally parties would be held in ballrooms or something similar. As Botan ventured further, she came across a candle-lit table set for two.
A firm hand placed itself on Botan's shoulder. In reaction, she twisted out of the hold and swung her best high kick at the stranger. Fortunately for the person, he caught it in midair. "Glad to see you're alert as ever," a gentle voice chuckled with a tad of uneasiness. The person released Botan's leg.
"Kurama?" He stepped out of the shadows, only to have Botan punch his shoulder angrily. "You jerk! You do that to me again, and next time I'll do more than just a high kick!"
Kurama grabbed her fists and stopped her blows. He laughed amiably at her fury, thinking her cute when flustered or slightly agitated. Her spirit remained the same all these years. "We haven't seen each other in years and this is how you greet me?" the redhead pouted playfully.
"Same could be said for me!" Botan glared, not as amused at Kurama. She knew that he was teasing her and that he enjoyed her reaction. Kurama was a bit sadistic in that way. "What boyfriend scares the wits out of his girlfriend of five years?"
"I'm sorry," Kurama apologized tenderly, cupping Botan's face in his hands. He bent down and kissed her softly, muttering afterwards, "I missed you."
After another gentle kiss, Botan forgave Kurama of his actions and murmured in return, "Me too."
With that settled, Kurama led Botan to the table and seated her across from him. He served her dinner and asked about herself. In a matter of minutes, they began talking about everything that had happened in the last few years and what the other had missed seeing in person. Kurama complained about missing several New Year's with his friends and all the chances seeing them drunk and giddy (interesting photos and videos made those nights). In return, Botan grumbled about being unable to attend Kuronue and Momoko's wedding and Hiei's famous singing debut. Somehow, divinely and miraculously, Kuronue had trapped Hiei into singing a song; and that day, the world discovered Jaganshi's hidden skill.
"He still hasn't forgiven Kuronue-kun," Botan laughed uneasily, remembering the coldness Hiei presented to Kuronue earlier that day. "Hiei-san tries his best avoiding Kuronue-kun."
Chortling, Kurama said through a grin, "I'm impressed Hiei hasn't killed Kuronue, although he did try at the wedding: several times, I remember. Kuronue did an excellent job getting Hiei to participate in his wedding."
When the laughter died down, Botan took a moment to take in Kurama's latest appearance. His fiery mane had not changed in style or in length nor had his style, charisma, or elegance. He had gained some height, she noted earlier, but not much had changed. Amazingly, Kurama had grown more handsome; and his emerald eyes, which had been hard and cold years before, were fluid with warmth and kindness now. After her inspection, Botan asked a question she had thought over since seeing her boyfriend. "Kurama, I thought you wouldn't be back in Japan until next year. Why are you here so early?"
Taking a sip of wine, the young man smiled slyly, "Is it bad that I'm here early?"
"No, not at all," Botan sputtered, feeling embarrassed she had suggested anything else but pure joy. "I'm happy you're back, I really am. I'm just curious because you made it seem like you wouldn't come back until forever."
Watching her with a tender expression, Kurama whispered, "I just thought it would be a nice surprise."
Returning his loving gaze, Botan giggled happily, "It was."
They talked for a few minutes more, discussing what Kurama would now do since he finished college. He had finished years before Botan and had the education and degrees to get a well-paying job or make something of himself. But Kurama stopped speaking and allowed his loved one to dream for him. Taking Botan's hand, Kurama smiled at the lady. "Would you marry me?"
Blushing at Kurama's sudden question, Botan stammered, "I would, but you know, you just got back from America. Maybe after you're settled, we can really talk about what to do with ourselves. After all, we haven' seen each other in a while, which is a bit weird for a couple. We'll have to work stuff out before—"
"So you would marry me?" he asked again, hoping he would be more successful.
Turning a deeper shade of crimson, Botan mumbled, "I just said—"
"That's not the answer, Botan. And I'm not talking about what we should do in the future." Kurama tried again, praying this time he did not sound too casual. Staring straight into her amethyst eyes, he asked one more, "Will you marry me, Botan?"
Her lips formed an "o" as she finally comprehended Kurama's question. A million dreams bombarded Botan's thoughts as they combined into this one moment. Everything she and Kurama had gone through, their awkward first encounter, their share of relational problems, and the Meiou and Sarayashaki feud: finally they were reaping the treasure blooming from coarse beginnings.
"Botan," Kurama chuckled, tracing Botan's cheek, "I won't ask a fourth time."
"Y-yes," she stuttered with joyous tears. "Yes!"
With a jovial grin, Kurama lifted from her seat and twirled her in the air. Botan then dropped into his arms and embraced him, and they remained like that for some time. Their silence expressed the greatest happiness one could feel, and they dared not ruin it with idle chatter. "Come on," Kurama finally laughed, pulling Botan from the room into the hall. "We better get this finished with or else there'll be hell to pay." He dragged her downstairs and entered a ballroom, where all of their friends and family sat eating a formal dinner.
"About time you got down here," Kuronue called from his table. With him sat his wife, Yusuke, and Keiko. Botan stared at the familiar finely dressed crowd in confusion.
"Yeah!" Yusuke agreed right after. He, like every other male in the room, sported a nice jacket and tie; Keiko beside him wore an elegant dress Botan remembered from shopping two days ago. "We started betting how long it would take for you two to get down here!"
Next to Yusuke's table sat Botan's parents, Hinageshi, and Atsuko. At another table sat the newly Mr. and Mrs. Hatanaka, Shuuichi, and Jin. All around Botan could see friends and acquaintances: Hiei, Mukuro, Koenma, and Ayame; Shishiwakumaru, Suzuki, Chuu, and Touya; Toguro, Genkai, Maya, and her fiancé; Kazuma, Yukina, Shizuru, Sakyou, and little Yukari. So many friends and loved ones all in one place! "What is everyone doing here?" Botan demanded shyly.
"They're here for an engagement party, silly," Hinageshi laughed when she handed Kurama and Botan drinks. "Syuuichi 'nii-chan called Kuronue 'nii-chan in advance, so we were able to plan all of this within a month. We knew you'd say yes, so of course there had to be a party to celebrate a long awaited engagement!" Grabbing her own drink, the young lady turned to the audience and raised her glass. "A toast to Minamino Syuuichi and Botan! Live well, eat well, and be happy!"
Everyone raised his or her glasses and drank to the toast. Immediately people swarmed and showered the newly engaged couple with questions. The women engaged Botan in lively conversation while the men dragged Kurama into their rowdy corner.
"You're finally tying the knot, eh?" Kuronue grinned, his arm hooked around his best friend's shoulder. "Say goodbye to your bachelor life and all those wandering babes!"
"Am I the only sane one left?" Hiei grumbled by Kuronue's side.
"Not so sane," Yusuke jabbed playfully, his arm hooked around Kurama's shoulder as well. "I heard from a little bird you and Akiyuki are looking for an engagement day sometime next year."
Crimson Hiei would have responded, but he caught sight of something far more important. Kazuma was successfully entertaining his sister. While the short lad bustled off to interrupt, the others laughed as they watched Hiei butt into Kazuma and Yukina's conversation. Jin approached Kurama amidst the entertainment.
"Kurama, congratulations," Jin grinned, shaking his friend's hand. "I'm glad to see you and Botan-chan will be getting married at last."
"Thank you," Kurama smiled.
"It's good to see you after so long, Jin," Kuronue greeted. He ruffled Jin's hair playfully and laughed, "I missed having my little underclassman around—Touya doesn't do much with fun; and he doesn't drink!"
Jin agreed with Kuronue, laughing, "Don't I know it! I missed having a drinking partner that could best me in a game. The people back at West can't to much against me, much less against you."
Pushing in Kuronue and Jin's talk, Kurama inquired kindly, "Have you said hi to Botan yet?"
"I'll see her later, when she isn't so busy with others," Jin promised. "Besides, if I don't say hi to her here, she'll kill me for being so rude."
Seeing Yukina now talking with Botan, Kurama guessed Jin's reluctance to greet his fiancée at the moment. He felt sympathy for Jin's poor heart. "Have you resolved your relationship?"
"More like dissolve," Jin sighed, running a hand through his hair. "In the very end, I still couldn't tell her. I just don't have the courage to say it."
"I see." Patting Jin on the shoulder, Kurama assured, "You did what you felt was right. Your heart wouldn't allow her to be hurt in any way, even by you. In the long run, you might have done the right thing."
"I think I have," Shinobi smiled, watching Yukina happily converse with Kazuma. Hiei again tried intervening. "Her smile is so carefree when she's with him; he gives her everything she could ever want. Kuwabara-san really does love her."
"You could have at least told her you felt the same," Hiei snapped, walking into the conversation. Having given up on Yukina and Kazuma, he glared at his friend and employee. "She died for a year, wandering hopelessly all over a continent trying to find you. She has no idea about your illness."
"And she shouldn't worry," Jin sighed. "She'll feel no regrets, marry one man, and die of old age, together and happy."
"And you?" Hiei demanded. "What will you do about yourself?"
"I'll be content," Jin grinned, "knowing I was once a part of her happiness."
"Jin-kun!" Botan smiled, joining the three men. Having escaped the ladies, she embraced her former rescuer in an eager hug. "It's been a while since I've seen you. I'm glad you're back from Europe. Are you here to stay?"
He shrugged. "For a while, I guess."
"Stay with us!" Botan suggested, clapping her hands excitedly. "You can share a room with Yusuke while he's still not married."
"Spending time with Urameshi would be good," Jin agreed. He gave Botan another hug and shook Kurama's hand. "I have to go now, but it was wonderful seeing you two. I'll talk to Urameshi before I go." While moving away from Kurama and Botan, Jin yelled back, "Keep together this time and be happy!"
Watching Jin disappear into the crowds and out of the room, the couple felt a desolate air hover over them. "Together and be happy," Kurama murmured while holding Botan's hand, "how bittersweet it must be for him seeing his friends in love and alive."
"Not if we do as he says," Botan smiled. "Jin-kun isn't one to dwell on his own troubles; he becomes unhappy when his friends aren't well. So we should listen and stay together now until the end." She pulled Kurama into an assuring kiss and pecked his cheek afterwards.
"Live well, eat well, and be happy."
Author's Second Note: Thank you for reading "What He Said, She Said" until its end. I am honored that readers have gone so far to reach the end. And for those who are wondering about the anti-climatic ending, I cannot apologize for it but I can give some reasoning behind it. At some point in time, I had begun disliking the story I had created and the ending I had planned. Thus, to salvage any love I had left for the story and for the sake of the stories ending (with addition to my pride as a writer and the loyalty of readers), I changed the ending to something I totally did not expect for myself. With that said, you are now free to judge the quality of the ending without myself further excusing the piece.
Thank you, everyone for you wonderful support, criticisms, and everything else you have offered.