Title: More Than Words
Rating: PG-13 for language and violence.
Author's Notes: Oh my gosh. I'm so sorry for the wait, but here it is. This is the last chapter. I hope you like it. I'm so grateful for all of the support I have had working on this, and I'm glad to finish it after all these years. Please enjoy!
"This is your fault," Yusuke murmured as he glared at the dark-haired demon. Yukio's face had gone white at the mention of Botan's disappearance, and it was the first time that Keiko felt she had seen him frightened. But then it was gone, and his eyes were narrowed.
A small smile spread over the demon's lips. "Of course, detective. I accept full responsibility for your inability to watch the ferry girl."
"That's enough," snapped Keiko. "We don't have time for this. We have to go after her."
"I don't think we're going to have to move very far," said Kuruma quietly. His eyes were trained on the sky.
The group turned to follow the kitsune's gaze, and immediately saw a small, blue-haired dot whirring on her oar just above the tree line. She was swerving through the air, rolling from side to side.
A growl resounded from Hiei. "Something's wrong."
Botan began to stream towards them, away from the trees, but again her path seemed disoriented. She unleashed a scream as the trees below her seemed to rattle and explode.
"No," hissed Yukio. "No."
Before they could question the demon, he had streaked past them. He burst towards the trees, nearing where Botan was now rocketing towards the ground. It did not take the group long to chase after him.
Yukio was fast, but Hiei was faster. The fire demon easily matched the other demon's stride, but kept a distance between them as neither could be sure where Botan might fall. Just as the fire demon hastened beneath where she and the oar were spinning, the forest gave way and both Botan and Hiei were covered by the shadow of a pair of enormous wings.
Sora tried to tug herself up from the ground. The ferry girl's screams were echoing all around, and in the shadows she heard the other demons stirring. The unforgiving buzz of claws sharpening against trees, tongues lapping over teeth, and paws striking the ground with hunger filled her ears.
She watched the shadows disappear into the sky as Botan finally managed to take flight from the tree. Still, his wings gushed from his body, pumping silently through the sky as he tore after her. Sora tried to aim several ice daggers after him, but it was no use. He was too high and then, he was gone.
She threw back the white cloak she wore tucked over her shoulders and dress, revealing the thin dress beneath. Without the cloak, it dipped down to her lower back. The gruesome remains of her wings were below, knotted and gnarled bits of flesh that lay covered in black scars. A few weak feathers still clung to the stubborn nubs, but they would not propel her into the sky. Sora, once named for her mother's hope that she could bring light and peace to the skies, was grounded and weak.
Nevertheless, it was easier to run without the weight of the cloak. She no longer cared that her weakness, her shame, was exposed. All that mattered was that she save the girl with the blue hair. This was not their battle, yet here they were in the middle of it. They had been led in to weaken her, and then to be utterly consumed by a force they could not foresee.
And then there was her brother. She could hear his taunts ratcheting between her ears as he pretended to raise his hand to fire back at them. No doubt, the dreams that her father had planted in the spirit detective and Keiko had shown his former skill. Like she, he had been gifted with impressive aim, perhaps more so as he did not possess the wings. It was the memory of his force that kept the forest demons at bay, and Yukio did not hesitate to remind them.
But now, no reminding of former talent could save her brother or the group of detectives. She had sent the group out of the forest with a bluff to protect them, for the truth was, Yukio could do nothing for them. He could run, he could smirk and laugh and taunt, but he could not defend them.
She closed her eyes as the leaves struck her and saw that day, so clearly, when he had fought her. He had waited for the leeches that he had planted to overcome her, to weaken her, so that he could kill her. The rage that had swollen in his eyes was insurmountable. And yet, they had bypassed her. Perhaps they were drawn by his guilt, or perhaps he had overestimated the idea of their shared blood. But either way, they had scuttled over her pale feet and strapped themselves to his chest.
She had watched the glow in his eyes disappear as he screamed. Her leaving him before had not managed to drain him of his demonic intentions, but his own greed had eventually caught up to him. In that moment, she had vowed to shield him, and to reclaim him as family. She had not allowed him to go far in the forest where she could not take his blows. She had kept his secret and his shame, and she had forgiven him. For really, it all came back to the demon that now snaked after the ferry girl in the forest. Neither Yukio nor Sora could blame the other. He had imprisoned them here with the unspoken threat that, if they chose to leave, the human families they had protected would be killed.
But it was no longer unspoken. He was here. And if dying meant freedom, so be it.
She was closing in on the edge of the forest, and in the distance she saw the group. She saw the shadow of wings darkening the open space. And then she saw Botan strike the ground as a fire demon failed to reach her in time.
The world was dizzy. Keiko saw the aftermath of Botan's crash through a darkened, dusty glaze. She stammered forward, pushing past the rest. Hiei was at Botan's side, pushing through the earth to reclaim her with remarkable speed and strength. As he pulled her from the rubble, she gave a weak smile.
So she was all right. But then, of course she was. She was probably injured, probably uncomfortable, but this was Botan. No mere crash was going to bring her down.
Keiko reached the ferry girl and took her hand, helping her stand. Hiei had turned his attention to the figure in the sky that was now circling like an oversized vulture. Keiko felt sick when she realized it was laughing.
"What the hell is that?" Kuwabara managed as he caught up.
"Looks like some sort of oversized chicken to me," said Yusuke. "Shall I fry it?"
"We shouldn't waste time," offered Kurama. "Prepare yourselves—we don't know what sort of power to expect."
He was ready with his rose whip, eyes as focused as Hiei. Each member readied their weapon, and Keiko saw that Yusuke's arms were quaking with rage as he held them out before him.
"I dare it to come closer," he hissed.
"His power's in his flight and his strength," said a quiet voice to the left. "And he's waiting for you to attack."
Keiko turned to see Yukio. For a moment, he and Yusuke looked a lot a like, as a deep-seated fury seemed to be coursing through the demon hybrid's muscles. Yet, if she dug a bit deeper, Keiko noticed something even more unusual. There was no humor, or even challenge, in his dark eyes. There was fear laced with exhaustion.
"You know this guy?" Yusuke snapped. "So let me guess, another brother? I knew this was a team job from the beginning, and you've just been distracting us. I'm going to blow you to pieces, you little—"
"Stop, Yusuke," whispered Botan. She had gone pale. "He's not here to hurt us. He would've done so already."
Yukio's eyes warmed as he turned them to Botan. Like she, he was remembering the fragile state in which she had first found him. As she watched him relax slightly, she thought perhaps he was forgiving her for running away. Just as quickly, though, he hardened and turned his gaze to the still-circling creature in the sky.
"That demon is my father. He killed my mother. He tried to kill the people who lived here many years ago. He fought and mutilated my sister when she refused to kill with him, and then he disappeared. He is the reason I sought blood on so many demons. He is the reason I then plotted to kill my sister, and he will kill me today."
For a moment the group was quiet, and then Hiei stepped forward.
"Perhaps you will die today," he smirked. "After all, you doubt your own abilities… I guessed that the boasting was a ruse."
Yukio's eyes narrowed, but he swallowed whatever insult sat at the tip of his tongue. "I will stay and fight with you, but I confess I will be little help. However, if you wish to leave, I will take him alone. This was never your fight. You were meant to be the bait."
"Listen, I'm getting a little tired of all of this wishy washy nonsense," said Yusuke. "I'm firing on this guy. Kuwabara, stay back a bit, unless he goes for Botan and…"
He looked at Keiko, who threw her fists in front of her defiantly.
"We'll be fine," she said. "Just get on with it so we can go home."
Yusuke nodded, needing nothing more. With his hands cocked toward the demon, he fired.
At first, the shot seemed a sure hit. It was not until moments before it would have struck that the group realized that the demon had rolled into some sort of cocoon and dodged Yusuke's shot. But instead of remaining stationary, it was now barreling toward them.
It was not until its teeth were closing in on her face that Keiko remembered to scream.
Chaos snapped in the moments that followed the demon's surprise descent. Something had stopped it from reaching Keiko, but she couldn't be sure if it was the combination of Kuwabara's sword, Hiei's lashing, Kurama's rose whip, or Yusuke's punches. Something had pulled her and the group away, though, while the others began the assault. There was no need for one-on-one fighting here. They had seen what this thing was capable of, and it had given up any possible chance for a matched fight.
Once again, though, the air had filled with dust, and all she could make out were shadowy figures. Something was panting on the ground, something that smelled of putrid garbage and blood. Keiko tasted something metallic in the air, felt the warmth of several bodies radiating around her. She counted the figures nearest her, and found that all in her party were counted for.
All except for Yukio.
As the dust began to settle, she saw him. Although the demon had been thrown to the ground and now lay panting within an inch of its life. But something else caught Keiko's eyes. The demon had revealed a gnarled, clawed hand, and it was wrapped around the formally merry demon's throat. Yukio's arms lay limp at his sides, and he was gasping for breath. Blood was peppered over his chest from where he was gagging it out of his mouth.
A momentary inconvenience, thought Keiko. In just a moment, he will fire an ice dagger right into its heart and finish the demon off. Just…
The horrible crunching of bones crackled through the air, and Botan whimpered. The demon's other hand was cracking Yukio's leg bones bit by bit.
Why doesn't he move? Keiko wanted to scream, or vomit, or both. Surely, demon's bones cannot be broken so easily. He's snapping him like a twig…
The patter of feet, and Keiko turned to her right to see Sora emerge out of the forest. Her cloak was gone, and a look of horror had settled into her normally unruffled features. She quickly smoothed it out, though, and began to trudge towards the demon.
"Stop there, Sora, or I will slit his throat right now," cooed the demon in a bristled voice that issued another cry from Botan.
Sora stopped, her eyes narrowed.
"I told you this would happen if you betrayed me," he purred. "And now lookie what I've caught. But I never knew what had become of him, you know. He's rather frail, isn't he?"
Sora seemed unable to speak. Keiko had seen her endure blows before, but she had always seemed nonplussed, even in the darkest of situations. Now…
But it still didn't make sense that Yukio did not fight. He was so close. Just a wrist flick and…
"How about I give you one shot, daughter? One shot to even the odds a bit, before I kill your precious brother. Mind you if anyone else fires, my grip's so tight that I'll squish his throat and kill him right now. Would you like that one shot, Sora?"
Pride, thought Keiko. Demons are always crippled by pride, and now Sora will have a clear shot at him. Perfect.
Sora nodded. Keiko's eyes flickered over to Yusuke for a moment, but she saw that he was staring straight ahead at the demon, arms still thrown out but still.
"All right, darling. On the count of three. One, two, three…"
A single ice dagger zipped past Keiko towards the brown and black demon. But it didn't hit his stomach or his eyes or his spine. It hit Yukio, right in the chest, so that the demon released him with a howl while Yukio fell like a rag doll to the ground.
The demon dropped dead momentarily. With Yukio out of his grasp, he proved to be a clean target. His blood oozed out over the ground, his jaw hung limp. In the forest, the whispers escalated to a frantic rhythm.
"Demon blood, thick and juicy, want a taste, see the body, pepper it with flavor…"
It was Sora that moved forward to drag her brother away from the corpse. Her hands ran gently over the body that lay so still. Her gaze didn't falter until Botan approached wearily.
"You… shot him."
Sora nodded. "Will you take him? When he's gone?"
"But I don't understand. Why did you…"
Sora gingerly reached forward and began to pull Yukio's shirt away from where the dagger struck him. The blood, so thick and resilient, held on viciously to the fabric. So Sora tore it patiently, until Botan could see what was beneath.
A thick, moving coat sent the ferry girl's hand to her mouth. Beneath the thick fabric, at least a hundred leeches vibrated with life. They glowed slightly with the bulk of what they had stolen, but several were cracked or broken from the force of Sora's dagger.
"The key," Botan whispered. "The key!"
Sora looked up. Botan had zipped off, blue hair whipping behind her as she rushed towards the tent. In moments, she returned, forcing a navy colored box into Sora's hand.
Keiko gaped. "Of course! The key! Koenma left it."
Sora opened the box slowly, eyebrows cocked suspiciously. But as her hands touched what was inside the box, its contents began to vibrate. In her hands, it burned, the streak of deep red turning orange against the rest of the black key.
Gently, she inched it towards Yukio. As it grew closer, the leeches started to hiss and scream. Upon contact, they burst into tiny blue flames and tumbled to the floor.
Botan leaned forward, and realized that Yusuke and the others were now beside her. Yusuke had taken Keiko's hand. He too wanted to see what had become of this strange demon.
With the leeches gone, Yukio's lips slowly began to curl. His eyes fell on Sora, and then on Botan. His eyes flashed.
"Thanks, sweetheart," he said.
Botan flushed, and she and Keiko's eyes met. She could see from Keiko's eyes that there would be no more nightmares involving these two.
At last, thought Botan. I've made something undeniably right.
A case closed. As the villagers began to slink from their houses, the white and black demons held on to one another. And as the group, led by the spirit detective, shook their undeniably cold hands, the world seemed still and almost harmless once again.