Disclaimer: I don't own Yu Yu Hakusho plot or characters.
Personal Note: This story is for Skitzo-phrenick, author of great Hiei/Botan stories, artist on deviantart dot com, and graduate – class of 2005. Congratulations, Renet!
The Lock of Hair
The letter fluttered to the icy ground as Hiei dropped it. It landed face up between the dark haired swordsman and his oversized enemy.
The letter was short and to the point. Had Hiei bothered to glance down, he could have read it again. The message written on the paper was, 'If you ever want to see the girl alive again, come to Ice Mountain in Makai.' That letter was the sole reason for Hiei's return to Makai.
"I'm here. Where is she?" Hiei growled.
The larger demon confronting Hiei glanced down at the letter on the snow and smiled. He was red, 8 feet tall, with two horns and several extra eyes gracing his forehead. His grossly exaggerated musculature made him look top heavy. He wore pants, but his chest was bare. Though his breath came in puffs, he didn't seem to notice the cold.
"A man of few words," scoffed the red demon. "I like that. It makes things easier. You can call me Akiyu."
"I can call you dead if you don't take me to her." said Hiei flatly, and dropped his hand to his sword.
Akiyu threw back his head and roared with laughter, his raspy voice making the sound anything but joyous. "All in good time. You got the hair?"
Hiei reached under his black tunic and pulled out the lock of silvery blue hair tied with rough twine, and showed it to the demon.
"Good." Akiyu nodded. "Then you know we have her. You just have to do this one job, then she's yours."
"Why don't I just kill you and take her back?" asked Hiei, his eyes gleaming crimson in the wintry light. He'd come to this icy portion of the Makai, the demon realm, on instructions given in the ransom note shot into the trunk of his favorite tree by a Makai style arrow. Inside the folded up paper had been the lock of hair.
"Because you know I'm not stupid enough to bring you here without taking precautions." said the red demon smugly. He turned and motioned Hiei to follow, trudging barefoot through the snow between two hills, both heavily blanketed in white.
Hiei glared, and followed. The demon led him around the hills and down into a flat bottomed gully beside a cliff. When they were half way to the cliff, the demon stopped before an unnatural ice formation.
At the base of the cliff large spikes of ice shot up like an outcropping of rock crystals. Their tips were sharp and they pointed in every direction, but most were pointing straight to the sky. Nestled among them were spear tips, their metal points shiny and well-sharpened, dark against the clear crystal of the icy spikes.
"Look." Akiyu grunted and pointed up at the cliff. Near the cliff top a flat platform of ice extended out over the spikes below. The platform was supported in midair by an ice bridge that branched out from the cliff. Another demon, this one yellow and stockier, sat on the bridge with a torch in his hand. Hiei noticed that the base of the bridge was smeared with a greenish substance.
Eyes narrowing, he saw that the platform was not empty. A body lay on it, the top of its head barely visible at the edge of the flat surface.
Hiei glanced back at the large red figure next to him, and saw that Akiyu was watching him.
"The girl is fine for now, but when the job starts, Sato up there lights the glue that's holding the bridge to the cliff, and that starts the ice melting. If you don't get back with the merchandise in time…Well, it's a long way down with an unpleasant little surprise at the bottom." The large demon leered over at the deadly spikes at the base of the cliff.
Hiei glanced back up at the still form lying on the platform, gauging the distance up the cliff from where he stood.
Akiyu chuckled darkly. "I know what you're thinking. You're thinking you can jump up there and free her, but you can't. She's chained to an iron bar that runs all the way through that platform. It's a heavy one, and the chain's encased in the ice. You jump up there, Sato lights the fire and you'll never get through the ice in time to chip out the chain and free her before the platform falls. Did I mention it's a very heavy chain? Even with your strength I doubt you could carry her and it away."
"If the chain is that heavy then there's no point. Once the bridge is lit, she's doomed." Hiei pivoted and began to walk away, his face deadpan.
"Wait!" Akiyu's voice lost its smugness. He scurried around Hiei and blocked his path.
Hiei stopped and cocked his head to look up at the demon, his face carefully expressionless.
"The merchandise I want you to get for me…"
"You mean steal," interrupted Hiei.
"Fine. Steal. The orb of Ahura fixes things. Things like treasure vault or prison doors, or things that flood or burn. You get what I'm saying? All you've got to do is throw the orb up to Sato and the bridge will stop burning and the chain unlocks automatically."
Akiyu grinned, his self-confidence restored. "You're not the only demon who can get to the human realm, you know. You were seen speaking to that girl. So we took her. We needed someone fast for the job, someone we could trust, and we chose you. You're quick, and once you give your word you never go back on it." Akiyu gestured at the cliff. "The deal is, you steal the orb, bring it back before the ice melts, and she goes free."
"How do I know she isn't already dead?"
Glowering, Akiyu moved in close to Hiei, attempting to intimidate him by size alone. "I keep my word too."
Hiei remained silent, un-intimidated.
Akiyu scowled. "Go and talk to her if you don't believe me, but if she lives, then you steal the orb from the Kunsa Consortium." He named the powerful demon crime organization as if he expected a reaction.
Hiei simply glared up at the red demon towering over him and said, "Agreed."
Turning his back, Akiyu led the way to the base of the cliff where a faint trail led up to the bridge, and signaled to Sato, the yellow demon. As soon as he'd done so, Hiei made his way quickly up the cliff side. Ignoring the trail, he scaled it in four leaps, arriving at the top and startling the yellow colored demon, who yelped and nearly lost his balance, scrabbling at the cliff frantically with the fingers of the hand that did not hold the torch.
A quick glare from Hiei made the demon called Sato freeze in place. Hiei strode past him over the bridge and onto the platform.
The girl, who'd been curled up in a ball asleep, uncurled her body and sat on her knees, the large chain connecting her shackled wrists disappearing into the icy floor of the platform.
"Botan." said Hiei flatly.
He took out the lock of silver blue hair and tossed it down on the chain. "I assume this belongs to you."
Botan glanced at the hair and caught her breath in surprise. "Oh Hiei," she half laughed, half sighed. "Did you think I was Yukina? I'm so sorry. It's just me."
"That is obvious." Hiei grated out.
Botan reached out with her fingertips and snagged the lock of hair. "You know, you shouldn't be so rough with this!" she said teasingly. "Some people give locks of hair as a token of affection."
Hiei stared. "Why would the bakas do that?" he asked, using the Japanese term for 'idiots'.
"As a keepsake, silly." When Hiei's expression didn't change, Botan continued her explanation. "To remember a loved one by. People in the human world used to do it all the time."
"Hn." Hiei's one short syllable expressed a world of contempt for all humans, especially ones who gave each other locks of hair.
"It's easy for you to sneer! You didn't lose any hair. Look at me." Botan swished her ponytail from side to side, trying to peer at it. "I'm all lopsided looking now." She kept swishing her ponytail and nearly fell over.
"I don't know what I'm going to do now. I may have to cut my hair short!" Botan made it sound like a catastrophe worthy of the sinking of the Titanic. Her voice quivered slightly as she said, "I really liked having a ponytail."
"It's just hair, woman!" Hiei growled. Unsheathing his sword, he grabbed a lock of his own hair and sliced it off to show her.
Botan blinked. "Why Hiei…" she began.
"That's enough!" An out-of-breath Akiyu appeared at the platform's edge. "You've seen she's alive, now go get my orb." He waved angrily at the yellow demon, who immediately dropped the torch to the green substance, which began to fizz and spark.
"You've got maybe an hour. The Kunsa Consortium is keeping the orb…"
"I know where it is," growled Hiei, cutting him off. Sheathing his blade, he disappeared past Akiyu and down the cliff, a faint blur of black marking his passage.
Half an hour passed. Then another ten minutes. Akiyu stayed by Sato, the yellow demon, talking intermittently.
"Look!" Sato glanced over Akiyu's shoulder and pointed. From over the snow covered treetops a pair of harpies, a hybrid avian/human female form with claws and fangs, skimmed toward the cliff.
"What the…?" asked Akiyu. He glanced down and saw a small black figure running through the forest between the trees, in clear view of the harpies above. "Hiei! He's supposed to be faster than that. He…" Akiyu broke off as the running figured doubled its speed and turned into a blur of motion which streaked up the cliff, threw a wrapped bundle at Sato, and skidded to a stop on the platform before an astonished Botan.
The shackles dropped off her wrists, and the faint fizzing noise at the bridge stopped.
Hiei lifted his chin, noticed the harpies, and smiled.
"You…you promised!" Akiyu shouted, nearly beside himself with rage.
Hiei glanced contemptuously over his shoulder. "I promised to deliver the orb. I never promised not to be seen." He leaned down, scooped Botan up in his arms and leapt down the cliff in three bounds, just as the harpies reached the platform.
"It was implied!" howled Akiyu indignantly at Hiei's retreating back, and then he began howling in earnest along with the yellow demon as the harpies landed and pounced.
Hiei fled, carrying Botan, until the sounds of carnage faded. Coming to a stop beneath a massive snow-covered pine tree, he set her down abruptly.
"Hiei…" Botan began hesitantly, her eyes soft.
Hiei's own eyes narrowed. "What is it?" he growled. "Say what you have to say. I don't have all day to listen to baka ferry girls."
Botan drew herself up and lifted her chin. "You don't have to be so rude, Hiei. If you must know, I just wanted to say thank you for saving me."
"Hn." replied Hiei, and began walking quickly through the forest.
"Where are you going? I'm not done saying thank you!" Botan chased after him, catching up at the next tree. "I know you thought I was Yukina at first, so I'm really happy you decided to rescue me anyway. I know how much you care for her." Botan said, skipping to keep up with him as she spoke.
Hiei stopped and growled. "You talk too much about things that don't concern you." He told her, then continued to trudge onward.
Botan marched around in front of him, placed her hands on her hips and pointed a finger at his nose. "Maybe so, but someone has to say it. You love your little sister. You watch over her like a hawk. Why don't you just tell her you're her brother? Why act as if you care about her when you won't tell her the one thing she longs most in the world to hear?"
"I can't tell her."
Several expressions flitted over Hiei's face before he closed down into the emotionless mask he usually wore. He stayed silent for so long that Botan began to look worried.
Then Hiei looked full into Botan's face and said, "My mother died because I couldn't be there with her. Besides me, Yukina is the only one who remembers her. Everyone should be remembered by someone like that. Yukina must live, and remember." Hiei stared at Botan intently for another moment, then strode around her, eyes forward, and kept walking.
Botan allowed him to walk past, her eyes wide. Hiei had never spoken to her of his parents, or his past. Did Hiei truly not care that his sister would only remember their mother but not him? That she'd think of him only as an acquaintance, never knowing that he watched over her and protected her in secret?
"That must be the saddest thing I've ever heard," whispered Botan. She turned around, gazing at his receding form before clutching her kimono sleeves with her hands, and hurrying after him.
Because of Hiei's superhuman speed, he was able to keep ahead of Botan no matter how much she hurried, though she noticed that he never went so fast that he was out of sight.
Eventually, when he reached the site of the portal back to the human world, he stopped and stood facing it, waiting for her to come alongside.
Instead of doing what was expected, Botan gathered her courage and came up behind the shorter demon. Not giving herself time for second thoughts, she wrapped her arms around him and bent her head down to rest on his shoulder.
His body clenched defensively under her embrace, but he didn't move.
"I will always remember you, Hiei." Botan whispered softly. "No matter where you go or what you do, you will be remembered."
She barely felt him move, but suddenly her arms were empty, and he was gone through the portal in a blur.
Botan stood alone before the portal. Slowly, she lowered her arms to her sides, and began to step toward the portal when she stopped abruptly, startled into immobility by a streak of midnight, contrasting dramatically with the white snow on which it lay.
There, lying on the ground in front of her feet, was a lock of Hiei's hair.
A/N: Yes, he meant to leave it for her, in case you're wondering. For Hiei, actions speak louder than words.
Renet, you owe me one for this, so update already!