Disclaimer: I don't own Yu Yu Hakusho, characters or plot. I'm merely borrowing them.
Note to readers: In case you get confused, Kurama – the red headed rose-whip wielding member of Yusuke Urameshi's team – is also known by his human name, Suichi Minamino. His mother, a human, is completely unaware that her son was once a master thief/fox demon from the spirit world named Yoko Kurama, though among his friends he now goes by 'Kurama'.
CHAPTER ONE: Botan Disappears
Kurama sat at his desk gazing down at a piece of paper. His homework was completed and he'd just begun to write a letter when his mother knocked softly, and opened his bedroom door.
"Suichi, a friend from Sarayashiki Junior High is here to see you."
Botan, wearing the distinctive blue sailor suit outfit that Sarayashiki favored for its female students, bounced in with a cheerful "Hello!"
Mrs. Minamino glanced at Kurama, who nodded slightly to let her know that Botan's visit was welcome. "Would you like some tea?" she asked Botan politely.
Reminded of her manners by the question, Botan clasped her hands together and bowed properly. "Thanks very much, but no." she answered, straightening up again. "I'll only be a few minutes. I just have to ask Suichi's advice on our school festival." Botan continued, obviously making up her story as she went along. "His high school did such a super job on their festival last year that I thought I'd ask his advice for ours!"
Mrs. Minamino smiled. "Then I'll leave you two alone. Please let me know if you change your mind about the tea." She bowed and left, closing the door softly behind her.
His mother, reflected Kurama, was the soul of tact. Though she hadn't shown it by word, gesture or expression, he knew she was thrilled that he had a visitor. She worried a lot about his supposed lack of friends. He knew she blamed herself, or rather her illness a year ago. He'd spent most of his free time back then taking care of her when she'd been sick. Kurama sighed inwardly, marveling at the complexities of human relationships, the delicate dance of emotional interactions that he'd never really cared about before his human mother had nearly died, and he'd realized how much he'd come to care about her.
"What're you writing?" During his introspection, Botan had moved close enough to peer over his shoulder at the desk.
Kurama drew a blank sheet over his letter to Sara, his English pen pal. He preferred letters to email, since it forced him to practice writing English alphabet letters, so different from the Japanese Kanji characters he used on a daily basis.
"Just a letter." Kurama replied vaguely.
Botan leaned over his shoulder, reminding him of an inquisitive bird perched on a tree branch, and waited for him to say more. When he didn't, she stepped back and laughed. "To a girl I suppose." Her eyes took on a gleeful sparkle. "Don't worry, your secret is safe with me. I won't tell the others about your love letters."
"I appreciate your discretion," said Kurama dryly, turning in his chair to face the irrepressible ferry girl, "but I doubt you came here to check on my correspondence."
"Oh, right." The silvery blue ponytail bounced as the girl straightened up to attention. "I almost forgot. Koenma called a meeting tonight in his office. Can you bring Yusuke and Kuwabara?"
"Of course." Kurama nodded.
"Great!" Botan clapped her hands together. "I'll tell Hiei on my way to my last job."
"Good." Botan nodded, then caught sight of a small trophy that Kurama's mother had insisted he set out on top of his bookcase. She stepped over to it, and caught it up in her hands, like a magpie pouncing on a shiny treasure. "What's this?"
Kurama stood, took it from her gently and placed it back in its former position. "My club's booth took first prize at the school festival last year."
Botan stared at him for a moment, then burst into laughter. "I guess I couldn't have made up a better story about needing to talk to you if I'd tried!" she giggled.
Against his will, Kurama smiled back at her. Botan's laughter was infectious. It was one of the things that endeared her to the team. Though to an outsider, Botan's cheeriness might appear foolish or ditzy, the girl was actually quite perceptive.
Kurama folded his arms and leaned against his desk, presenting a barrier between the girl and the letter resting on it. Ever since she'd picked up the trophy, she'd been angling closer to it.
"What last job do you have left to do today?" asked Kurama, attempting to distract her.
"What? Oh, I have to go pick up one last soul for the spirit world. I am a ferry girl, you know." Thwarted in her effort to get to the letter, Botan's attention shifted back to the bookcase. Touching her forefinger to her chin, she paraded up and down before it, glancing quickly over the shelves. "You sure have a lot of awards, Kurama." She commented, nodding at the plaques and framed certificates.
"My mother insists I display them. It makes her happy." He explained simply. If it were up to him, he'd pack them away in a drawer somewhere. Seeing a warm expression enter her eyes, he forestalled whatever gushing comment she planned to make by asking, "Why does Koenma want to see us?"
Botan frowned, and leaned back against the bookcase. "Koenma didn't say much, but I could tell something's up. Everyone in the castle is unusually tense. Koenma's dad is away for the next six months, so that always adds to the boss's workload, and makes him cranky. But it's something more than that. There's rumors that a group of demons are planning something big. Have you ever had the feeling someone was watching you from out of the corner of their eye?"
Botan waited to Kurama to nod, then went on. "That's what it feels like in the castle, like everyone is watching everyone else." She lifted her chin slightly, coming to a decision. "I'll try to find out more from my contacts after I pick up my last soul for the day."
Her gaze shifted past Kurama to something on the shelf above his desk. Since it wasn't the letter, he allowed her to brush past his shoulder to reach for it.
Capturing a framed photograph, she moved back and smiled down at it. It was a picture of his family before his father's death. Kurama's human mother was holding his two-year old form in her arms while his father smiled with her into the camera, his arm draped protectively around his wife's shoulders.
"Look at this, you were so cute as a baby!"
Kurama winced inwardly. Botan being sentimental was only slightly less tiresome than Botan being inquisitive. He took the picture away from her.
"When do you have to pick up your last soul?"
"Oh not for a while." answered Botan carelessly.
"Ah." Kurama noticed Botan's eyes were still glued to the picture.
She cocked her head. "Why didn't your parents have more children?"
It was an oddly intrusive question, even for Botan, but Kurama answered.
"They couldn't. My human mother only had me because I used my spirit energy to temporarily fix her body so that she could conceive."
It had seemed so simple at the time. His Yoko spirit form, grievously injured, dying actually, had escaped to the human realm through a hastily arranged portal, expending nearly all the spirit energy he'd had left. The portal had dumped him in a park where his human mother and father had been walking on their way to a doctor's appointment. Yoko-Kurama's fox spirit ears had been quick to pick up their conversation, their fears they would never conceive, their need to find out why, and the solution to his problem fell right into his lap. They'd wanted a child, he'd needed a place to hide and recuperate, so he'd fixed his mother's womb and become her child. Now he marveled at his arrogance. If the demons pursuing him had ever found out about his human parents...what they would have done to the human couple didn't bear thinking about.
What did bear thinking about was Botan's interest. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason." Botan shrugged and stepped away from the desk. "Well, I'd better get going. It wouldn't look good if the grim reaper was late picking up a soul!" She flashed him a smile. "I'll tell you what I can find out about the rumors in the meeting." And with that, she was through the door and gone.
Kurama gazed after her a moment, then picked up the phone to call Yusuke and Kuwabara. Sometimes it was a distinct pain to be the only member of Team Urameshi to own a car.
"Hiei? Hiei?" Botan wandered around the trees of the park, gazing up distractedly. She knew Hiei was somewhere near the trees, the question was where?
"Hn." The terse syllable came from right behind her. She whirled, and faced the diminutive black clad form.
"Hiei! You scared me! Must you always sneak up on a girl like that?"
Hiei muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like "Baka," the Japanese word for idiot, but apart from that stared at her silently, waiting for an explanation.
Botan collected herself and said, "Koenma wants to have a meeting tonight."
"And this would interest me why exactly?" asked Hiei, eyes narrowed.
"Because you're still one of Koenma's operatives." Botan informed him, then decided to sweeten the unpleasant reminder. "And we need your help."
Hiei gave her a glance that clearly agreed with her statement about needing help. "Fine." He said, and disappeared back into the trees so quickly that he was just a blur.
"OK then. Thanks." Called out Botan uncertainly, not sure that Hiei was still within earshot. Sighing, she transformed into her pink kimono, called her wooden oar, hopped on and flew away muttering to herself about rude demons.
Koenma's office was a mess, as usual. Stacks of papers lay on his desk, on the floor, on chairs, etc. as the toddler sucked his pacifier fiercely and rubber-stamped papers as fast as Jorge, the ogre, passed them to him. Meanwhile, other blue or red skinned ogres delivered more papers by setting them on the floor, retreating immediately under Koenma's glares.
Hiei arrived first, walking purposefully to the center of the room. Koenma spared him a brief hello, and told him to take a seat, ignoring the fact that all the chairs in the room had papers on them.
Hiei stalked to the back of the office and sat down abruptly on the floor, his sword sticking out along the wall like a pointing finger.
Soon Yusuke, Kuwabara, and Kurama entered the room, Yusuke and Kuwabara good-naturedly bickering while Kurama looked on.
"Ah, good. You're all here." Koenma slammed his rubber stamp down on the latest stack of papers on his desk, inadvertently stamping down on the fingers of the blue-skinned ogre who placed them there. Ignoring the ogre's howl of pain, Koenma waved him impatiently out of the way and ordered all the ogres from the room.
When the last ogre had gone, Koenma moved a stack of papers out of his way on the desk, and stood on his chair.
"People, we have a problem."
Team Urameshi stood together and waited, Hiei glowering with crossed arms, Kurama patiently with an inquisitive expression, Kuwabara with barely repressed eagerness, and Yusuke, the leader, black eyes sharp with anticipation.
"Someone, or I should say something is trying to infiltrate the castle."
"So call out your guards." Suggested Yusuke. "You don't need us when you've got a bazillion ogres running around."
"That's the problem." Koenma leaned forward, his baby hands clenched into fists. "It could be one of them. It could already be here."
"We'll protect you!" Kuwabara swaggered up to the desk, hooking his thumb at his chest. "I'm the toughest kid at Sarayashiki junior high. I'll be your bodyguard."
Koenma stared as Hiei snorted derisively. "Thanks, but I'd rather have you out in the field using your ability to sense spirit energy."
"Oh yeah. I'm good at that too." Kuwabara congratulated himself and strutted back to the group.
"Now Botan will give you your assignments and..." Koenma glanced around the group. "Where is she?"
"She's not with you?" Yusuke asked. "You lost her?"
Koenma bristled. "I am the ruler of the Spirit Realm. I do not 'lose' my ferry girls. OGRE!" He ended on a yell.
The blue skinned servant ran in quickly. "Yes sir?"
"Where's Botan?" Koenma snapped.
The ogre began wringing his hands. "Well, sir, you see she didn't come in yet, and ..." he trailed off, aware of Koenma's basilisk stare.
"You LOST her?!?"
"Um, I guess you could say that. Yes." The ogre bowed his head and shuffled his feet.
Kurama stepped forward. Reassured at the prospect of meeting anyone but Koenma's accusing eyes, the ogre ventured a glance at him.
"Did Botan deliver her last soul for the day?"
The ogre quickly whipped out a small notebook and consulted it. "No, no she didn't."
Kurama turned to Koenma. "Botan mentioned that she was going to try to investigate the rumors about some sort of attack on the castle after picking up her last soul. She seemed a bit distracted. She said that she was going to tell Hiei about the meeting. Since Hiei is here," Kurama gestured at the small black clad demon, "we can only assume Botan disappeared sometime between leaving Hiei and the time she was supposed to arrive back at the castle."
Koenma plucked his pacifier out of his mouth and began swinging it as he stepped up on the desk and began pacing around stacks of papers. "So, since picking up souls isn't exactly dangerous work, we can assume that Botan did go on to investigate the rumors. If she told Kurama that she intended to investigate, then she might have let it slip here as well. If the castle has already been infiltrated, then whoever is behind this plot probably knew about her plans and nabbed her to keep her from finding out anything."
Koenma stopped and jabbed a finger toward the group. "You've got two jobs now, Yusuke. Find out whoever's planning an attack on the castle and stop them, and find Botan."
Yusuke nodded. "You got it."
"Then what are you standing around for?" Koenma popped his pacifier back in his mouth and waved his hands around agitatedly. "Get going!"
The team moved out, Hiei striding around them to be first out the door, Kurama noticing, and smiling to himself with Kuwabara and Yusuke trailing behind.
"Second." Yusuke said to Kuwabara.
"Second what?" asked the sandy haired teen.
"You're the second toughest kid at Sarayashiki Junior High." Yusuke challenged.
The sounds of their quarrel faded as they made their way out of the office. Koenma threw himself back in his chair and crossed his arms, uncharacteristically silent.
"Boss?" Jorge the ogre glanced at him worriedly.
"Botan," Koenma muttered under his breath, "Where are you?"
END OF CHAPTER ONE
Please review and let me know if you liked chapter one. Chapter two will have more action in it, (Hiei and Kurama battle a large green ogre) I promise!