He smiled at her as he approached Hiei's body and summoned a glowing, purple substance from his hands. It merged into the shape of a sword, and he raised it above his head.

Chapter Fourteen: The Showdown, Part II

"Hiei!" Botan screamed, reaching both hands out toward them.

Time seemed to slow as a blinding light lit the room and a ball of compressed, crackling energy surged toward Ronan. It hit him full in the chest, sending him rolling across the floor onto his back. Botan stared after him in shock and took a shaky step before her legs gave out. She slumped to the floor, her body still tingling from the rush of power. The two guards groaned on the floor nearby, having been caught up in the aftershock of the spirit orb.

Ronan pulled himself back up and glared murderously at Botan. "You little bitch," he said, storming toward her with a look of such hatred, it paralyzed her with fear. "I'll tear your goddamn head off!"

Before he could reach her, Hiei leapt to his feet and flitted behind Ronan, pointing his knife into the flesh of his neck. "Take one more step, and I swear she'll be the last thing you ever see."

"Hiei!" Botan exclaimed, feeling a sudden lightness in her chest. She almost didn't believe her eyes.

"That's impossible," Ronan hissed as he tried to get a look at Hiei. "You're supposed to be dead."

"Hn. You think very highly of your abilities," Hiei said coldly, "but you're a fool if you think the same trick will work on me twice." Without taking his eyes off his nemesis he called over to Botan, "Can you move?"

"Yes, I think so," she replied, standing up on unsteady legs. It had never occurred to her how much of a toll spirit energy had on the body, at least when it was used in a physical attack. How did the boys deal with it on a regular basis without wearing themselves out? "Are you okay?"

"What are you waiting for, then?" Hiei snapped, ignoring her question. "Take your prisoners and go."

His harsh tone surprised her and she crossed her arms over her chest defensively. "No, I'm not going to leave you."


"Detain her," Ronan snapped, and the two dazed demon guards leapt to their feet. "Do not allow her to escape." They were on her instantly. One of the guards grabbed her hair and forced her head back. Her breathing hitched in a shallow gasp as she tried to lean into the pain, bumping into his chest. She struggled against his grip but he shook her head back and forth a couple times, causing pain to shoot down her neck and into her hairline. "Now, let me get this straight," she heard Ronan say. He was clearly directing his inquiry at Hiei. "You mean to tell me you were just pretending to be incapacitated that whole time?"

Botan strained to look straight ahead, determined to watch what was going on. "You're hurting me," she hissed, trying to ease the pressure on her head. The guard clenched his fist more tightly around her hair.

"Yes," Hiei was saying. "It didn't take long for you to fall for the bait, and now I know your weakness."

As Ronan absorbed this information his shocked expression faded and his features began to relax. He smiled and pressed his lips together. "Hm… you're very clever. I admit, I underestimated you," he said. "But I also know your weakness." Then he glanced at the demons still holding Botan and told Hiei very clearly, "My telepathic abilities may no longer work on you, but dear Botan is still fair game."

"Do it and I'll slit your throat faster than you can blink," Hiei hissed near his ear. His voice sounded loud in the deathly silent room.

"You won't have time."

One of the guards unsheathed a knife from his belt and plunged it through the soft flesh of Botan's side. She stared down at it in shock as blood poured down her hip and leg. He held it for a moment before pulling it back out and pain overpowered her, dulling her senses until she couldn't think straight. The room began to spin and Botan felt displaced as though she was watching herself from outside her body. There was so much blood. It pooled around her feet in a crimson puddle. Her hands went to her side to clutch the wound, and she gasped at the searing, pulsing pain, unable to breathe. It shot up and down her side like a burning ember against her skin. Her abdomen wanted to tear itself inside out.

"No!" Hiei roared, flitting to her side and slashing apart the two demons that were still holding her. Their bodies spurted blood and collapsed to the floor in several pieces. With them no longer supporting her, Botan began to fall, but Hiei caught her before she could hit the ground. "Breathe," he commanded, clutching her trembling hand. "Damn it, woman, breathe!"

"I… Hiei," Botan gasped. The edge of her vision was going black, and she kept seeing little flashes of light. She knew she would pass out soon.

"Look at me," he snapped, forcing her eyes back on him.

"Botan! Hiei!"

Botan was vaguely aware of an explosion through the wall on her right, and Hiei instinctively folded his body around her, protecting her from falling debris. She felt three familiar energy signatures surrounding them, and the Spirit Detectives appeared through the smoke and dust, charging toward Ronan with their weapons raised.

He tried to make a run for it, but Yusuke shot him through a wall with his Spirit Gun. He and Kuwabara raced through after him, but Kurama hung back upon noticing Botan in Hiei's arms. He walked up to them and put a hand on Hiei's shoulder. The fire demon glanced at him in acknowledgement.

Kurama began speaking, and Botan tried to focus on his face, but her vision kept blurring in and out, making it hard to think straight. She squirmed in Hiei's arms, gasping softly as the pain pulled at her abdomen. More demons poured into the room and turned to charge at Hiei and Kurama. The red head, after a few more words to Hiei, leapt into the fray with his rose whip at the ready and began slicing demons apart with his Rose Whiplash.

She strained to stare after him, but Hiei turned her face back to his and activated his Jagan Eye. Botan stared at the blue light in fascination, watching it pulse in a hypnotic rhythm. She felt her eyelids grow heavy and her body began to tingle. After a couple minutes the pain from her wound subsided to a dull ache, though she was sure it was only because her body had gone completely numb. She felt Hiei's presence in her mind, an occurrence that wasn't completely foreign but no less startling than the first time he'd spoken to her telepathically. Instead of his usual insults, his presence was comforting and warm. She wanted to fall asleep, but the part of her that was still aware knew that would be a very bad idea.

Sleep, the presence in her mind whispered. I'll protect you.

Botan resisted, but the suggestion in her mind was too strong. She drifted off to the sound of battle raging all around her.

Botan's eyes fluttered open, and she blinked a couple times to clear her vision as the room slowly swam into focus. For awhile she didn't move, allowing her body time to adjust to consciousness. Her eyes slid over the sparse décor that furnished the room, as sterile as the walls themselves. She obviously wasn't dead, which meant she was probably in a hospital room of some sort. She shifted over so she was lying on her side and propped herself up on an elbow. She could hear voices coming from an adjacent room and strained to hear what was being said. One voice carried over the others, and she couldn't help but smile.

"As if that wouldn't be enough to draw suspicion," Yusuke was saying. "I don't think we've ever had any sort of conversation without it ending in him face down in the dirt."

"Shut up, Urameshi," Kuwabara shouted in irritation. "I nearly beat you last time we fought, or have you already forgotten?"

She heard Yusuke's grunt of amusement. "Yeah… but what you're not mentioning is I had my hands behind my back the entire time, and you still lost!"

"Urameshi! Don't make stuff up. We were just playing a game!"

"A bet," Yusuke added. "It was getting so easy to beat him I was starting to feel guilty. Like beating up a preschooler."

"Hey!" Kuwabara squealed indignantly. "I'm not that weak! Honestly, show a little modesty once in awhile!"

"Maybe you should show a little skill." That was definitely Hiei.

Botan giggled loudly and the voices suddenly got quiet before several sets of footsteps rushed to the door and two figures burst into the room.

"Botan?" Yusuke demanded, followed closely by Kuwabara. His facial features visibly relaxed upon seeing her. He jumped onto the bed and wrapped his arms around her neck, pulling her into his chest in a bone-crushing hug. "What the hell were you thinking? You scared the living shit out of us, you know?!"

"We thought you were dead for sure," Kuwabara added, stepping up to the foot of her bed.

Kurama and Hiei stood back against the wall, quietly watching the reunion.

"Sorry, guys," Botan mumbled into his shirt. She pulled away and smiled up at them. "But the good news is you cracked the case, right?"

Yusuke and Kuwabara exchanged glances. "Yeah, about that."

"It was Kurama who figured it out," Kuwabara said.

Botan looked up at him with a smile. "Good ole' Kurama. I knew we kept you around for a reason! So what happened? Tell me everything!"

Kurama smiled and took a step forward, crossing his arms over his chest. "Well, we discovered Ronan wasn't exactly targeting Gondawara but rather a drug of his called Batke, an antidrug to counteract the chemical, Butaline."

"Butaline!" Botan gasped and tried to sit up in bed. "Wasn't that the word Yusuke and Kuwabara found written in blood in Gondawara's mansion?"

Kurama nodded. "Yes, after Ronan killed his household servants, Gondawara returned to his home to leave us that message, knowing our search would eventually lead us there. Butaline is a chemical compound Gondawara used to control Ronan up until the days before his escape into Demon World. Batke is a similar version of that drug he created for himself to keep Ronan from being able to read his thoughts and control his mind."

"How do you know all this?" Botan asked.

"Kurama snuck off to meet the bastard while me an' Kuwabara were off looking for you two," Yusuke said, obviously put-out at being left out of the loop.

"He contacted me shortly before Ronan attacked the temple and again after you and Hiei were abducted. He agreed to provide us with key information if we 'disposed' of his experiment," Kurama said with a look of disgust. "It took us a few days to negotiate the terms. As it was, we didn't have much of a choice but to agree."

"He sounds like a nasty piece of work," Botan said. "What did Ronan want with the drug, anyway?"

"Butaline, once injected into the bloodstream, can take years or even decades to wear off. Ronan wanted the Batke in order to live a free life, away from Gondawara's control. We believe he was using the imprisoned humans as test subjects to create his own version of the Batke, assuming he couldn't get his hands on Gondawara."

"I see." Botan looked down at her sheets for a moment, lost in thought. "How did you finally find us?"

Kurama tucked a hand into one of his pockets before replying, "Gondawara theorized that Ronan had taken up residence in his old underground laboratory and gave us the coordinates. Luckily his theory proved correct. We arrived shortly before you were injured."

"How much of that do you remember?" Yusuke asked.

"Oh, um. The last thing I can think of…" She trailed off, unsure what to tell them. The last thing she remembered was Hiei in her head telling her he'd protect her. She didn't think he'd appreciate her telling that to the others. "Well, I remember you guys breaking through the wall," she said, grinning up at Yusuke.

"Yeah, that was pretty badass," he said. "Too bad you were out for the best part," he said and promptly began to describe their encounter with Ronan.

"This is it, guys," Yusuke said as they stood in the entrance of the base, surrounded by crumbling brick and chunks of broken ceiling plaster. "We end it here."

"You said it, Urameshi! Let's kick this guy's ass!"

They took off through the dimly lit corridors, following their friend's energy signatures and killing demons that got in their way. A small cluster of guards ran around the corner and charged at the Spirit Detectives, but Kuwabara cut them off with his Spirit Sword. Yusuke kicked one into the wall just as he felt Botan's spirit energy suddenly flicker dangerously low. "Did you feel that?" he called, his voice echoing off the corridor.

Kurama's eyes narrowed as he sliced the last guard through his abdomen and straightened up, mouth set in a grim line. "Botan's life may be in danger. We must hurry."

That was all Yusuke needed to hear before adrenaline kicked in and he stopped thinking. "If that bastard hurt her, he'd better start praying for his damn life. I'll rip his balls out his throat," he said, racing ahead, no longer thinking about Kurama and Kuwabara. He could hear their footsteps behind him but didn't slow down. They could fend for themselves.

He followed Hiei's energy signature to a locked door and pounded his fist against it when the knob didn't open. "Hiei! Botan!" he shouted as Kurama and Kuwabara jogged up behind him. "Stand back," he ordered, pointing his fore finger at the door. "Spirit Gun!" It exploded inward, knocked off its hinges by the ball of white energy. They didn't even wait for the dust to clear before charging inside.

Yusuke saw Hiei out of the corner of his eye, but his sights were already on Ronan, trying to make an escape. He fired his Spirit Gun a second time, blasting him through a wall. He leapt through after him and sensed Kuwabara behind him with his Spirit Sword held high. Ronan groaned and cracked open an eye, coughing from the cloud of dust. He slowly pulled himself to a sitting position. Blood trickled down from a wound in his matted, black hair, seeping into his eye.

"Stay down," Yusuke warned, aiming his pointer finger at him, again, "unless you'd rather have me detach your head from your shoulders. You're not gonna win."

Ronan scowled at them and brushed pieces of plaster off his clothes. "Don't underestimate my abilities. Once I've charred your body into an unrecognizable pile of flesh, I'll cut off your precious finger and send it to Lord Koenma on a platter. It'll be the only part of you they'll ever find."

"That's rich coming from a guy sprawled out on his back," Yusuke mocked, taking a step toward him. "Better start prayin', bud."

"Yeah, you're outnumbered here," Kuwabara said, "and we're not feeling too generous."

Ronan smiled at them and slowly stood up, summoning a purple substance into his hands that merged into the shape of a sword. He suddenly lunged at Yusuke who leapt to the side in a defensive stance. Kuwabara charged forward, clashing his Sword against Ronan's, and pushed him back a step. Ronan held up a hand as though to stop him, and Kuwabara crashed directly into a force field, as solid as a brick wall. "What the hell is this?" he demanded, slamming his fist into the invisible barrier.

"He's boxed himself in," Yusuke noted, stepping cautiously around Ronan.

"Why don't you come out and fight instead of hiding like a little pussy?" Kuwabara said with a scowl. "That's how real men do it, after all."

Ronan smirked at him. "I may not be powerful enough to beat you, but why fight my own battles when I can have you fight them for me?" His pupils began to dilate until his entire irises turned black. He stared at Kuwabara for a tense moment before frowning in confusion.

"Uh? Is something supposed to happen?" Kuwabara asked blankly.

Yusuke barked out a laugh and said, "I think he just tried to manipulate you. Too bad nobody told him that trick won't work on us."

"You're lying!" Ronan hissed through clenched teeth. "No one can overcome my mental powers."

"To be fair, Yusuke is correct," Kurama said, suddenly stepping through the hole in the wall. He had a few blood splatters on his red uniform but appeared otherwise unharmed. "Your friend, Gondawara, gave us all the information we required. It would be wise to come quietly so we can end this without further bloodshed."

"Yeah, we each took some of that Batke crap to keep you out of our heads," Yusuke said with a smirk. "Kinda sucks when someone foils your plans so thoroughly, huh?"

"Whatever, Urameshi," Kuwabara said, folding his arms across his chest. "You didn't say that last part."

"Okay, fine, so I maybe I just made it up," Yusuke said, "It's called adlib."

"Hiei, how did you break his control back there?" Botan asked, glancing passed the others at Hiei. "I mean, they were all immune, but you…"

His eyes widened briefly at the sudden attention. "Ronan turned my Jagan Eye against me. I spent time meditating to strengthen my control over it, so it wouldn't be swayed to betray me, again."

"Nice," Yusuke said appreciatively. "That's the way to do it, Hiei."

Botan had one more question nagging at the back of her mind but was almost afraid to ask. "What about Machiko?" she asked, remembering the black haired girl. "How did she play into all this?"

She saw the muscles in Kurama's face tense, but he gave no other outward sign that he was upset. He exchanged a quick glance with Hiei. "She was one of Gondawara's servants," he replied solemnly, "the sole survivor. We weren't going to tell you this because we didn't want to upset you, but Machiko was just another message from Gondawara. He allowed her to be sacrificed in order to capture our attention."

"So… the brand on her back… that was really from Gondawara?" she asked, feeling dread curl in the pit of her stomach.

"Yes. Hiei was unable to search her mind because Gondawara had injected her with a dose of Batke before he'd sent her to find us. Once it wore off, Ronan was able to track her down to the temple."

Botan took a moment to digest all the new information. There were so many people who'd been caught up in the middle of Ronan and Gondawara's feud, so many people hurt. "What's going to happen to him?"

"Ronan is awaiting his trial in Spirit World's prison," Kurama said. "Unfortunately, Gondawara disappeared soon after our meeting. He hasn't been seen since."

"It's a shame Ronan has to be punished, considering he just wanted to be free from that horrible man," Botan said.

"But he hurt you," Yusuke said, frowning at the ferry girl. "Don't you think that counts for something? You don't think he should be punished for that?"

"Well, yes. Of course, he needs to atone for the people he hurt," Botan said, "but still… isn't freedom something we all have a right to?"

"Yes, though ironically it's something we tend to take for granted," Kurama said. The others grunted in agreement.

"That's human greed," Hiei piped up. "They think that just because they get their hands on something, they're entitled to it. We should have allowed Ronan to kill him." Nobody disagreed with him.

Botan stared down and her legs, twisting up the sheets in her fists. "How are the prisoners? Are they okay?"

Kurama nodded. "They're in another wing of the hospital recovering. Many of them are malnourished and underweight, but once they regain their strength they should make a full recovery. Koenma sent in a team to scout for any prisoners we might have missed."

"We heard that you went running back in to save them," Yusuke said, dryly. "Leave it to you to throw yourself into the middle of a conflict without thinking things through."

"I did think it through!" Botan protested with vehemence. "I was afraid for them."

Kurama nodded, and his expression turned serious. "You likely saved their lives."

Hiei mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like "too soft," but the others ignored him.

Several hours later, Botan awoke with a start and turned on her side in the hospital bed, confused for a moment as to where she was. She relaxed once she remembered what happened and blinked owlishly into the darkness, trying to sense the disturbance that had awakened her. The halls were quiet and dimly lit and she realized it must be sometime in the night. She heard a shuffle near the window on her left and snapped her eyes to the source, reaching out with her spirit awareness.

"Hiei? Is that you?" She needn't have asked; he wasn't trying to mask his demon energy, but the words were out before she could stop them.

"I'm here," came his quiet response. He was sitting in a chair in the corner, watching her intently. She couldn't see his face, masked as it was in shadow, but she felt his eyes on her.

"What are you doing here?"

His silence spoke volumes. She wasn't sure if she was ready to face him, yet, after everything that had happened. After everything she'd said. He'd been awake for all of it, she cringed inwardly. Did he remember any of it? Of course, he did.

Botan hesitated before patting the side of the bed in an invitation for him to join her, and after a moment's hesitation he obliged. He didn't sit but merely stood next to the bed with his hands behind his back.

"So…" Botan said, unsure for once what to say. "How are you feeling?"

Hiei lifted an eyebrow. "I'm fine. You're the one in a hospital bed."

"That's true," she agreed. "Kind of a weird change, huh?" Hiei grunted in acknowledgment, and they fell into silence once more. "Look, Hiei," Botan finally began, deciding to address the elephant in the room, "about what I said back there… I didn't realize you were awake, and you know how I am when I get worked up… it was just a heat of the moment thing."

"You didn't mean any of it." He said it like a statement, but Botan could hear the underlying question.

"Oh, no! Of course, I did! I just meant that I understand if you don't return my feelings," she tried to explain. "I didn't really think either of us would make it through that alive, to be honest." That reminded her of Hiei's little scene with Ronan and she turned furrowed brows on him. "I can't believe you let me believe you were dead. I even cried over you, jerk!"

Hiei just shrugged. "If I'd told you, your act wouldn't have been as authentic."

"Are you saying I'm not a good actress?"

"I'm saying you can't lie to save your life. Besides," he said, "the emotional trauma helped you focus your spirit energy."

"That was amazing, wasn't it?" she grinned. "It was so pretty, like a miniature star."

"You're just like the Detective," he said with a small smirk. Botan stared at him in confusion until he added, "your spirit energy increases exponentially when someone you care about is in danger."

That sobering comment brought Botan out of her euphoria, and she stared at him with wide eyes. He knew how she felt, yet he hadn't left. He was still standing next to her bed. It gave her hope in a way she hadn't allowed herself to feel before. "And you, Hiei? Do you love me?"

His eyes snapped to hers and flickered away, settling on a spot on the wall behind her. He shifted his weight, clearly uncomfortable by the situation. "I think you already know the answer to that," he said vaguely.

Botan sighed and glanced down at her bed sheets, feeling more disappointed than she knew she should have. It was a long shot, anyway. "Oh, that's okay. You don't have to stay here. I'm not trying to pressure you."

Hiei stilled as though confused by her words. Then he scoffed. "Stupid woman, that's not what I meant." He sat down on the edge of the bed and leaned against the frame, folding his hands behind his neck. Then he turned his head to look at her. "I have no intention of leaving you."

She didn't know what to say to that so she just gave him a bright smile and reached out to wrap her arms around his neck, hoping to convey her feelings through her actions. She felt him stiffen against her before he tentatively brought his arms around her back in an awkward hug. She smiled against his neck, feeling as though her happiness would burst from her chest.

She didn't really care if they didn't have a traditional "relationship". He wasn't the kind to buy her flowers or chocolates or take her out to see a movie (unless she begged him), and she doubted he'd ever take her out to a romantic dinner. But none of that mattered because what they had was better. It was real. They'd been through more than most people, been tested and tried, and they came back out stronger. He didn't need to say what she already knew. He loved her, in his own way, and that was all that mattered.


Peneia Teke: Well, guys, after seven years it's finally finished. Thanks for sticking with me through it all; I couldn't have done it without all your support. I'm a little sad that it's over because, let's face it, seven years is a looong time for anything. I just want to thank everyone who reviewed, favorited, or alerted either this story or me as an author. I really, really appreciate all the comments, praise, and criticism you've given me. Hopefully, I've improved a bit as a writer through all this.

I really hope you guys liked the way I ended it because I'm very happy with it. I didn't want the ending too sappy, and I couldn't really see Hiei confessing his love for Botan right then and there, so that was the compromise. I tried to answer all the questions, so let me know if anything is unclear.

I doubt this will be the last time you'll see me in the Yu Yu Hakusho fandom. I have some ideas for one-shots, and I may even go back and rewrite Blind Love, but we'll see. I can't promise anything.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the story! See you on the flip side ^_^