At long last, the final chapter! Happy New Year everyone! Special thanks to my reviewers – Tsume-Hiei luver, I'll answer your questions anytime! TopazDragon, I agree with you, leaving things to the imagination is ultimately more satisfying than being bopped over the head with blow by blow details, and thanks for the vote of confidence in regards to writing romances. Cwolf2, thanks as always for your kind words, you're such an encouragement! Crystal Koneko, I hope this last chapter lives up to your expectations! I always have such a struggle writing endings. Carapheonix, I got your email and I still think you should write that story – you'd write a great one! Eternal Musing, Pocky and Fred, enjoy the last chapter, and thanks for reviewing the earlier ones!
Disclaimer: I do not own Yu Yu Hakusho characters or plot.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE JEWELER'S TREASURE
Three doors down turned out to be a small post World War II era home. The tiny lawns on either side of the walkway beyond the low front gate were green, but spotted with weeds. Two lackluster shrubs sat in pots on either side of the front door.
The boy who came to the door when they rang the bell was older, in his early twenties. He'd evidently been studying because he carried a half open book, his place held by his forefinger stuck between the pages. He was thin, and wore dark pants and a blue shirt, un-tucked and buttoned part way up over a white T-shirt.
"Yes? Can I help you?" he asked, blinking curiously at Yusuke, Kurama, Kuwabara, and Hiei standing behind the others, tense and ready for action.
"We're here about Mariko. Your sister." said Yusuke.
"Mariko?" repeated the boy, glancing over his shoulder. Very faintly from the back of the house came the sound of a little girl singing.
The boy glanced back at them. "What do you want with her?"
Kurama spoke, going back to their cover story. "We're doing a school project about the affects of city pollution on young children, and we'd like to ask you a few questions. But first," Kurama took a step back and nodded at the house next door with the broken fence. "Do you mind telling us what happened over there?"
"Yeah," Kuwabara burst in. "Seen anything strange around here lately?"
"Uh, no." The boy looked doubtfully at them. "It was like that when I came home yesterday. There were some weird rumors going around, but I don't believe in ghosts or monsters or things like that."
"Really?" asked Kurama politely. "That's curious considering that you saw the creature who destroyed the fence yesterday."
"What?" The boy's eyes changed from blank incomprehension to a sharp, intelligent look, and his grip on his book tightened.
"I saw you on the sidewalk yesterday with your sister." Kurama told him. "You were standing behind a group of school girls. Isn't that right, Hiei?"
"Humans all look alike to me." growled Hiei. "Make him tell us where that stupid ferry girl is so we can finish this."
"I don't know anything about a ferry girl," said the boy softly, "but if you'll wait here a moment, I'll go ask my sister." With that he shut the door.
Yusuke opened his mouth to talk, but Kurama stopped him by raising a hand and leaning toward the door. They heard the boy's footsteps walking slowly and deliberately at first, and then came the sound of a book dropping to the floor and the footsteps broke into a run.
"He's getting away!" shouted Kuwabara, as he surged toward the door, inadvertently pushing Kurama and Yusuke before him.
"Hey! Watch it!" snarled Yusuke, his face mashed against the doorframe. Yusuke tried to elbow Kuwabara away while Kurama slipped under the sandy redheaded boy's arm and moved to the side.
"You're in the way." shouted Kuwabara, pounding on the portion of the door visible over Yusuke's head.
"Baka!" exclaimed Hiei, and grabbed Kuwabara by the hem of his school uniform jacket and pulled him away so hard that he landed on his rear and slid several feet down the walkway with a "Hey!"
Yusuke and Kurama stepped aside as Hiei took a running jump at the door and landed on it feet first at a right angle. The door didn't stand a chance. It came off its hinges and fell flat inside the home's entry hall, Hiei landing on top of it poised like a surfer on a surfboard.
The black clad demon was off the door the moment it landed, and took off down the hall.
Without sparing a glance at Kuwabara, Yusuke and Kurama followed. The hallway ran the length of the home, ending in a door to the back yard. By the time Yusuke, Kurama, and Kuwabara arrived, Hiei had already smashed through it as well as the back gate and was half way down the alley in a blur of motion.
When the three others rounded the corner at the end of the alley they found themselves at a crossroads. The alley they were on crossed another street, which led back toward the park on their right and a warehouse district on their left.
From the left came the high thin, wail of a frightened child. The boys ran that way.
Hiei had the boy and his sister cornered against the back wall of a warehouse building which, judging by the cracked pavement of the empty parking lot, was abandoned. The fire demon stood before them, his katana unsheathed and held above them.
The boy was on his knees hunched over his sister, protecting her. All Kurama, Yusuke, and Kuwabara could see of her were her legs sticking out from behind her brother, the top of her head over his shoulder, and one hand clutching a red plush Inuyasha doll. The girl was whimpering.
When Hiei's blow did not fall, the boy looked over his shoulder. Hiei continued to stand, sword raised, as the others ran up.
The boy was the first to break the tense silence. "If you have to kill someone. Kill me. Leave my sister out of this."
Even Hiei blinked at that.
"Hey! We're the good guys. We don't go around killing people. Who do you think we are?" asked Kuwabara belligerently. "I may be the toughest kid at Sarayashiki Junior High, but I don't go around killing little kids. I like little kids." Kuwabara glared at the older boy. "And kittens too." He added as an afterthought.
Hiei lowered his sword, but kept it unsheathed at his side. "I have no such qualms." He told the boy. "If you tell me where the ferry girl is, I may let you die quickly."
At that, the little girl let out another wail and began crying in earnest.
"Look." Yusuke stepped forward. "We just want to know where Botan is. You tell us, and we'll let you go."
The boy hugged his sister tighter, shushing her. "I don't believe you. I've seen that Grim Reaper before. Every time she comes to our street someone else dies. I saw her flying toward my sister while she was playing in Ayami's yard. She was coming to kill her."
"Whoa. Wait a minute. You're saying you can see Botan when she's flying around on her oar?" Yusuke asked incredulously.
The boy nodded.
"How?" asked Yusuke.
Kuwabara pointed. "I know! It's that thing around your neck, isn't it?"
The boy withdrew his hand from around his sister and clutched at something under his T-shirt. "How did you…?"
Kuwabara strutted. "I knew it! I can sense a lot of spirit energy coming from whatever that is."
Kurama knelt carefully by the boy, keeping a good three feet away so as not to crowd him. "What is it that you wear around your neck?" he asked in a soft, compelling voice.
The boy's eyes glittered. He blinked, not sure how to react to Kurama's polite demeanor, but answered. "It's my mother's wedding ring. She's dead."
"I know." Kurama acknowledged gravely. "You have my condolences. This ring, do you mind my asking where your father got it?"
"He's got Botan and we're talking jewelry?" interrupted Kuwabara.
Yusuke, who'd been listening intently, absent-mindedly punched Kuwabara in the head, knocking him off his feet, where he landed next to Hiei, who muttered "Baka" and stepped back.
Taking this all in, the boy's expression grew wary again, and his gaze flitted from Kurama, to Yusuke, to Hiei, and back again while he answered. "My grandfather was a jeweler. When my father decided to ask my mother to marry him, he asked grandfather for a special, one of a kind wedding ring. Grandfather found an unusual stone that was part of a meteorite that fell from the sky in Africa. Because it wasn't a diamond, no one else wanted it. Grandfather found a way to cut it and put it in a setting."
Still speaking quietly, Kurama asked, "When did you discover there was something different about the ring?"
Mariko's sobs were beginning to diminish. Her brother placed both hands over her ears gently and answered Kurama. "When my parents died, the police gave me the few personal effects that survived the crash." He swallowed, then continued. "I had to identify their bodies. They were burned…almost beyond recognition, but their wedding rings survived. They were the only thing that still looked…normal. I started wearing both their rings around my neck, to remember them. That's when I started seeing things."
"What things?" growled Hiei, interested despite his disdain for humans.
"Demons." The boy answered, staring at Hiei. "Usually just small ones who ride on people's shoulders and influence them. I changed my major in college from pre-med to accounting to get away from one of the professors who had one. And because it takes less time to get a business degree. I'm responsible for Mariko now. I have to get a job soon."
He glanced down at his sister, who was burrowing into his shirtfront. He looked back at Kurama. "I saw the ferry girl when she came to take old Takeshi's soul. She hovered at his window. I watched her pull his soul out the window and fly away with it on her oar. She only comes to kill."
"Botan doesn't kill people. She only shows up to pick up souls after people die." Yusuke informed him. "I should know. She picked me up when I died."
The boy stared at Yusuke, frowned, and opened his mouth to state the obvious objection, that Yusuke was alive and standing before him.
Yusuke raised a hand to stop him. "I got better. Long story."
"May we see this ring?" asked Kurama politely.
A curious expression came over the boy's face. Then his face went blankly polite.
"Sure." he said. Removing his hands from his sister's back, he gently pushed her away from him so her back was resting against the warehouse wall. She sniffled, clutched her doll to her chest, and stayed seated on the ground as he pivoted slowly on his knees, and put his hand down his T-shirt, to pull on the cord around his neck.
Kurama smiled at the girl who watched him with frightened eyes, and hugged her Inuyasha doll harder. Because his attention was on the child, the blast of light took him completely by surprise.
It burst out of the ring in a blaze, enveloping the red head before he had a chance to get out his rose whip. In a second, the light was sucked back into the ring, along with Kurama.
The boy immediately held out the ring toward Hiei, who was already moving in, swinging his Katana in a downward slash.
Hiei's sword never found its mark. His dark spirit energy slammed into the white light from the ring, and sparks showered, but the white light enveloped both the dark lighted sword and Hiei's small form until both were completely surrounded and sucked into the ring's stone.
Yusuke grabbed the boy by the shirt, leaned his face in, and shouted, "You give them back or I'm pounding your face into the pavement."
"Yeah!" Kuwabara came to stand by Yusuke. "I don't care what you do to the shrimp, but Kurama's a nice guy." Kuwabara rolled up his sleeves and made a fist. "Looks like you need a lesson in manners, punk, and I'm just the one to teach ya."
The little girl, who'd been watching wide-eyed, shrieked, dropped her doll, and launched herself at Kuwabara, grabbing onto his legs. "Don't hurt my brother! Please don't hurt Yota! Please!"
"Huh?" Kuwabara lowered his fist and a look of alarmed panic came into his eyes as the little girl began to cry again.
"Oh man. Uh." He patted Mariko's head awkwardly. "Don't cry. Yusuke? A little help here?"
"Deal with it." Yusuke told him. "Yota and I have a little business to take care of."
Yota stared back at Yusuke without fear, the ring still in his fist.
"Oh man. What do I do?" Kuwabara wailed, patting the little girl on the back.
"Calm her down." Yusuke suggested. "Talk to her about your kitten or something, just get her out of here. She's not going to want to see this."
Yota nodded in agreement, watching Yusuke steadily.
Kuwabara glanced at them. "OK, right. Kittens." He reached down and grasped the little girl under her arms to pick her up, and set her down on his hip. Staggering slightly, he walked over to the warehouse wall and snagged her Inuyasha doll. "Can't forget this now, can we?"
Mariko grabbed her doll, and stared over her shoulder at her brother, who took his gaze off Yusuke long enough to look at her and yell, "You stay with him and be a good girl, Mariko. OK?"
"Yeah. We'll just go right around the corner and stay right by this building and I'll tell you all about my kitten. I've got the best kitten in the world! Did you know that kittens…."
Kuwabara's voice faded as he carried the little girl around the side of the building and out of earshot.
Yusuke dropped his grip on Yota's shirtfront.
Eyes never leaving Yusuke's face, Yota leaned back from his kneeling position, and came to his feet in the quick, fluid motion that only a trained martial artist could execute with grace. As he got to his feet he landed in a ready position, knees and elbows slightly bent.
"So you know how to fight, huh?" asked Yusuke, a note of approval in his voice.
"A little" replied Yota warily. "I haven't been to the dojo in a while for obvious reasons."
"Don't think I'll go easy on you because you lost your parents." Yusuke warned him. "I never had a father, and my mother is usually out partying, so you won't get much sympathy here."
"I don't want sympathy. I want to save my sister's life. If I win, you and your friends go away and leave us alone. That includes the ferry girl too." Yota said.
"And if I win?" asked Yusuke. "What do I get – the ring?" he continued sarcastically.
"You take my life instead of Mariko's. If the ferry girl needs souls that badly, she can have mine. You can have the ring too if you like." said Yota harshly, taking Yusuke's suggestion seriously.
Yusuke stared at him. "No deal. I can't control Botan. The only one who can do that is Koenma. Not that it matters, since I'm going to kick your butt."
He charged. Yota dodged, but Yusuke dropped and kicked his legs out from under him.
Yota dropped, but was already rolling backward so Yusuke's next kick slashed through air instead of connecting.
Then Yota attacked, forcing Yusuke to raise his hands to block.
The fight went on for some time. Yota's martial arts training was able to counter Yusuke's bare fisted street brawling style most of the time, but eventually Yusuke's superior training with Genkai began to tell.
Yota's breath became labored. Yusuke's fist connected with his face, knocking him down, and he wasn't able to dodge the next kick that connected with his ribs, so he grabbed onto Yusuke's leg and pulled him off balance, elbowing him in the face as he went down.
Both of them had bruises and cuts when they stood for the last time.
"You want to give up now?" asked Yusuke.
Still breathing hard, Yota simply shook his head.
At the same instant they both attacked, grabbling and pummeling each other in a clinch. Yota began to falter, and finally it was just Yusuke landing the punches.
When he realized his opponent wasn't responding, Yusuke stepped back. Without the support, Yota fell to the ground, barely conscious. He lay on his back, gasping.
Yusuke squatted next to him. He brushed his fist against a sore spot along his jaw. "You landed some good ones." He told the older boy.
Yota closed his eyes and didn't respond.
Yusuke sat, and stared at the warehouse. "I never had a sister or a brother, but if I thought someone was going to kill them, I'd probably have done the same as you."
For a while Yusuke thought Yota wasn't going to answer, then he said. "She's all I have left. Without her I'm alone."
"Alone isn't so bad."
"You're not alone. You've got friends."
"Come on. You've got to have friends too." Yusuke glanced at the other boy curiously. "Even before I met Kurama and the others, I always had Keiko."
Yota opened his eyes and stared at the sky. "I thought I had friends, but after my parents died they all just stayed away. They didn't know what to say, and suddenly I didn't have anything to say to them."
"That's rough." Yusuke said after a moment.
Yota was silent. His breathing evened out. Then he spoke. "You'll be wanting your friends back now, I guess."
The older boy sat up slowly, and grimaced, holding his side. Wincing, he used his other hand to pull on the string around his neck until he grasped the wedding ring.
"Can I see?" asked Yusuke.
Yota pulled the string over his head and handed it to Yusuke. One of the rings, a simple gold band, fell away down the string as he held the other between two fingers. Yota's mother's ring was a round, moon shaped cabochon-cut rock held in place by two gold leaves on either side. The rock was smooth and rounded, without facets like a regular diamond, yet it reflected the light better.
As Yusuke looked at it, it seemed to him that there were chambers inside the stone. As though it were somehow faceted on the inside. Glints of colors appeared inside the silvery exterior of the rock. He saw flashes of pink, black, and red, but whenever his eye tried to focus on them, they disappeared. A brighter flash of pink and light blue swirled by then faded.
"I think I saw Botan!" exclaimed Yusuke.
Yota reached over and took the ring back. "She's very agitated. I think if she could burst through the stone she would." He ran his thumb over the top of the stone and closed his eyes, concentrating.
"What are you doing?"
Yota opened his eyes. "Thinking calming thoughts at her. I tried to tell her she's about to be released, but I don't know if she understands. It's hard to communicate through a rock. I'm pretty sure the stone acts as a conduit to another dimension. I'm taking a geology course, but this stone isn't like any rock on earth." He held it up and stared into it. "I can get feelings off of it if I concentrate." He looked at Yusuke. "She isn't hurting in there, just irritated."
"Irritated I can handle." Yusuke told him. "Botan is always nagging at me. It's not like that's news."
Yota tried to smile, and winced, as the movement pulled at a cut by his mouth. "Help me up?" he asked, holding out his hand.
Yusuke sprang to his feet and hauled the older boy upright. He swayed a bit, but managed to stand on his own.
Holding the ring out in front of him, Yota concentrated. A bright burst of light came from the ring. It fanned out, making a large circle shape on the warehouse wall. It grew brighter, then disappeared back into the ring, leaving Botan, Kurama, and Hiei standing there, blinking.
"Yusuke! What have you done?" Botan exclaimed, looking past the teenager. "That one isn't due to die for a long time!"
"What?" Yusuke turned and saw that Yota had collapsed.
Botan rushed by him to kneel at the fallen boy's side. Yusuke dropped to his knees next to her as Hiei and Kurama came over.
The ferry girl brushed her ponytail back over her shoulder and began fussing over Yota, cradling his head in her lap. "He isn't like you, Yusuke! He doesn't have a lot of natural spirit energy, and completing three trans-dimensional transports is tough enough if you're from the Spirit World, let alone a normal human being. Which reminds me," Botan glanced around curiously. "Where's Kuwabara?"
"I still say we kill him slowly." Hiei growled, staring down at the human boy.
Botan sighed exasperatedly. "As I told you and Kurama both, Yota Mitsumura didn't hurt me. He just stuck me in the other dimension. And he spoke to me every day so I wouldn't get lonely, or rather he communicated." Botan's forehead wrinkled as she tried to find the right words. "It was more a sense of emotions than actual words, which made it really difficult to talk back!"
"He stole you. He deserves to die." said Hiei flatly.
"Why Hiei," Botan looked at him, wide eyed.
"Baka ferry girl." Hiei harrumphed and stalked off. Botan stared after him, surprised.
"Don't mind him." Kurama told her. "Being captured makes him a little testy."
"Oh. Well, as I was saying…"
Yota blinked and sat up, moving away from Botan as soon as he realized whose lap he'd been lying on.
"The ferry girl." he breathed.
"That's me! In the flesh!" quipped Botan cheerfully, and shook her finger at him in mock anger. "I should be really mad at you, you know, locking me away like that."
"I'm sorry." mumbled Yota. "I just couldn't think of any other way to keep you from killing my sister."
"Oh yes, that." Botan grew serious. "I really do have to take her soul. She's past due, you know."
Yota raised his hand, then let it drop to the asphalt. "Why her? Why not take me instead? I'll gladly go in her place."
Botan's eyes grew soft, and she touched Yota's shoulder. "It doesn't work that way. There's a reason these things happen. You may not understand, but…"
"I don't understand." Yota shrugged off the ferry girl's hand, his voice rough with emotion. "She's just a little girl."
"Yeah. Why not take him instead if he's willing to go?" asked Yusuke.
Botan sighed, and reached into her kimono to take out her notebook. Opening it in the middle, she read a moment then looked up.
"Your sister has myoblastoma cancer, Yota."
"What?" The boy's mouth opened in shock.
"She was scheduled to die when her friend Ayami fed her poisoned berries. The cancer would have been discovered at the autopsy. You saw me headed toward Mariko and took her away before Ayami could give her the berries." Botan closed her notebook with a snap. She sighed. "Sometimes there is a reason why things happen the way they do, even if you can't understand it at the time." She repeated patiently.
"Mariko." Yota's eyes filled with tears. He buried his head in his hands. "What have I done? What have I done?"
"Hey, you just did what anyone would do." Yusuke told him, glaring truculently at the ferry girl.
Botan rose to her feet and stepped aside to let them talk. Kurama watched her go, and saw her take out her compact sized spirit communicator, but stayed where he was, with the other two boys.
"But cancer! Why didn't I see it? How could I miss something like that? I was pre-med for two years!"
"You weren't a doctor yet. How would you know?" asked Yusuke reasonably.
"Yusuke is right." affirmed Kurama. "A college student, however gifted, can't be expected to make a diagnosis like that."
"You don't understand." Yota raised his head. "I was studying to become a doctor because I wanted to go into oncology. Cancer research. My grandfather died of cancer. I was going to find the cure."
Suddenly Botan was back. She dropped to her knees next to Yota. "I'm back! I've spoken to Koenma and he agreed to let me try something."
Yota blinked wearily. "What?"
"Well. Since you had me in your power and didn't harm me, Koenma said that I could try to use my spirit energy to heal Mariko." Seeing the hope rising in Yota's eyes, Botan continued swiftly. "I won't be able to get rid of the cancer completely, but I may be able to buy you some more time and who knows? Perhaps you'll be able to find the cure before Mariko's time runs out."
Botan waited expectantly for a reply, but Yota just stared at her dumbfounded, so she continued. "I know it isn't much, but it's better than nothing, don't you agree?"
"You'd do that for me?" Yota whispered. "After what I did to you?"
"Oh piffle! As if you did anything really bad. I quite enjoyed the time off of work." Botan told him merrily. "So what do you say?"
"Yes!" shouted Yota. He got to his feet and staggered. Yusuke caught his elbow to keep him from falling. "I'll go get Mariko."
"I'll come too." Yusuke told him, and flashed an approving grin at Botan as they began to jog to the corner of the warehouse.
Since the humans were leaving, Hiei walked back to join Kurama and Botan as Kurama asked Botan softly, "How did you get Koenma to agree to your plan?"
"Hmm?" asked Botan, smiling and waving at Yusuke and Yota's retreating forms.
"Koenma." Kurama repeated patiently. "How did you get him to agree to postpone Mariko's death by healing away some of her cancer?"
"Oh, that." Botan flashed him a half-guilty, half-mirthful smile. "I'm afraid I told a bit of a fib."
Botan looked a bit more guilty. "I didn't exactly lie," she told them. "I just changed the time line around a little."
"What exactly do you mean?" asked Kurama, his green eyes sparkling with interest.
"I, ah, sort of told Koenma that Yota had already forced me to use my power to heal Mariko, but that he didn't hurt me, and since Mariko's death would have made him decide to change his major back to pre-med and become a research scientist again anyway, I thought that we could just leave things the way they are, or rather the way they will be once I heal Mariko."
Kurama laughed softly.
Botan grinned and continued. "And all Koenma demanded in return was that Mariko become a spirit detective when she gets a bit older. It's not exactly easy to find a soul that's either killed before its time or given a second chance. Souls that are eligible to become spirit detectives are rare."
"It looks like Yusuke will have an apprentice in a few years." Kurama observed. "That should prove interesting, don't you agree Hiei?"
An evil gleam came into Hiei's eye. "That baka with an apprentice? Hn."
Kurama smiled. "The next several years should be quite entertaining."
Yusuke, Kuwabara, and Yota, holding his sister's hand, came around the corner of the warehouse and began walking toward them.
"Oh come now you two!" Botan chided. "Yusuke may surprise you. I think it will be good for him to look out for someone else for a change. It may make him grow up!"
Botan giggled and ran forward to meet the boys, and the newest and youngest spirit detective apprentice ever recruited by the Spirit Realm.