J.J. - Well, well. Long time no see. (Siiiiiiiiiiigh)

Well, a lot of things are going on right now, which makes it hard to update, but a few days ago, RedRoseInADarkAlley read my story and reviewed – not once, but on several chapters. Her last review made me empathize, as I know exactly how it feels to get so incredibly wrapped up in a story that when it ends you want to beat the update out of the author, and it sucks when you realize they haven't updated in months. It's hard to believe I could write something good enough to get people that hooked, but obviously, at least one person is. So, this updates for you, and anyone else that really wanted it.

P.S. I lied about the chapter title. (Heh..eh..)


Chapter Twelve

The Storm

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Mukuro's house was one of simplistic elegance. Everything was well kept and clean; expensive appliances and furniture, but nothing more than the essentials were used, no fancy decor. The mistress of the house led them down a hallway, stopping at the end to gesture towards the guest bedroom. She watched silently as Hiei continued past her without so much as a glance, Botan cradled gently in his arms.

When he placed her on top of the bed, she shifted and groaned. She cracked open her eyes blearily, just enough to be able to see. "Hiei?"

"Just go to sleep," he said quietly, resisting the urge to caress the flushed cheek.

Her brow furrowed, but before she could protest, Hiei stopped her. "It's okay."

Too tired to argue, she let her eyes droop closed, trying to ignore the pounding in her head. As soon as she drifted off, Hiei stood and walked out of the room with a final glance at her, just to be sure she was alright. Hiei shut the door behind him as quietly as possible. Mukuro had apparently gotten bored, as she had left her position by the doorway.

The second the soft click of the door handle sounded, Hiei felt a wave of exhaustion hit him. Mentally and physically, he was just so... tired.

"You have human emotions, you get human weaknesses..."

His eyes snapped open, unaware that they had even closed in the first place. He glowered defensively at Mukuro. Her arms were crossed smugly across her chest as she gazed calmly back at him. His back had slumped against the wall, and he hadn't bothered to right himself. "Is there a point to your statement? Or do you just enjoy insulting me?"

"Both," she admitted in faint amusement. "But I'm more interested to know what it is about this girl that has warranted your attentions."

"There's nothing to know," he replied with a cool warning in his eyes. He pushed himself from the wall and prepared to leave, looking away. "She doesn't have anything of mine."

A hand reached out and gripped his shoulder as he started to walk away, preventing any movement. Using her arm, Mukuro pushed him back against the wall. He glared fire, but she only smirked in response. "Don't lie to me Hiei."

"I owe you no explanation," he said icily.

She stared into the heated red eyes for a moment longer, almost as if she were searching for something, before obligingly releasing him. "Fair enough." With a somewhat pleasant half-smile, she left him alone, turning towards her small living room.

Hiei growled and rolled his eyes in frustration, following after her. She was seated on her couch, her figure shadowed heavily by the darkness. He folded his arms. "What do you want?"

Silence. After a moment, she took a small breath. "What makes you think I want something?"

He walked towards her. "It's not your style to offer assistance without something in return."

She gave a short laugh. "How true... Sit next to me, Hiei."

He hesitated, unsure of her intentions. One could never tell when it came to Mukuro and getting too close often proved fatal. "I won't bite, Hiei," she whispered. He noticed that she kept personally addressing him, flashing his name in front of him. But as a warning, or an invitation? Finally, he placed himself next to her, though still wary, resting his forearms on his knees.

"Do you feel anything?"

His head snapped up in surprise. Their faces were mere inches apart and he could feel his breath quickly shortening. "Feel?" he said gruffly, keeping his voice as even as possible. He was determined not to lean away, though the prospect was tempting.

"It's a simple question," she replied. Something stirred in him. Could his old feelings actually be returning after all this time? Mukuro had been the only woman he had ever felt anything other than annoyance or indifference towards before. But had they really been in love? He found himself wondering what he would do if she tried to kiss him right now.

Interrupting the tense moment, a pained cry came from the guest bedroom. Suddenly, all he could feel was disgusted. With a glare fit to kill, he pushed himself roughly from the couch and away from Mukuro.

"Puppy," Mukuro growled as he headed towards the bedroom.

He whipped around furiously, his anger flaring. He could feel his Jagan eye radiating. It further infuriated him when Mukuro only smirked widely. "I had forgotten there was only one night left before the full moon.."

Confused, he glanced down at his skin, where similar eyes were beginning to form. Cursing, he forced his energy to calm. The proximity of the full moon made it more difficult, and he mentally reminded himself to watch his step.

Once his energy levels were back to normal and transformation was not an issue, he graced Mukuro with one, final cool look before turning and heading towards the one woman he did love.

He froze.

What?


The pain behind her left eye was excruciating, a deep, dull pounding that made every turn of her head and every sound set up a sickening rise of her lunch. She was trembling horribly, but trying to conceal it. Tears were welling quickly behind her swollen eye because of the pain...

She closed her eyes and tried to go back to sleep, to block off the anguish, but it wasn't working. She was doomed to endure it for the entire night. She didn't have any medicine with her, and nothing else she could think of would soothe her aching mind.

Well, there was one thing...

Hiei's music. If he wasn't playing something incredibly intense or passionate, it still held that beautiful quality. A serene quality that instantly brought peace to her mind. And Hiei... she needed him. Had to find him...

With a groan, she pushed herself out of the bed and was instantly hit with a flash of pain and a crippling dizzy spell. Finally the dizziness passed and she stumbled slowly to the door. She fumbled with the handle, black spots starting to form in front of her left eye. She faltered clumsily into the dark hall, praying that Hiei would be playing after all this trouble.

And then in the next moment she could feel the ground rushing up to greet her. A pair of strong arms caught her before she contacted with the carpet.

She looked up and blinked at her savior, limp in their arms. Hiei. "Migraine," she whispered, closing her eyes as he picked her up.

He carried her back into the guest room. With every step he took, her temple pounded even harder, her eye feeling as if it should have been three times its normal size. She had been afflicted with the accursed things since she was in highschool, and they had gotten worse since she had started cleaning, always around strong chemicals.

She felt herself being laid onto the large bed. As soon as she touched the mattress, she curled into a ball against the pillows. From next to her, she heard a long suffering, very male sigh.

"What am I to do with you?"

"Not my fault," she whimpered against the sheets.

"Don't get too comfortable. I don't think you will appreciate what I have in store for you. But it should ease your pain."

She groaned, not looking forward to whatever torture he had planned to rid her of the migraine. She'd seen various books on his shelves with the bindings etched in foreign languages. Who knew what sort of dreadful medicinal practices he was well versed in?

She heard him get off the bed and leave the room for a moment towards his bathroom. When he returned to her side, he sat a heavy object upon the night stand of sorts by the bed, and she heard the swish of water. Maybe he had in mind a cool compress for her head. The thought was a wonderful one. Her temple was aching so furiously now that she had to continually swallow to keep her stomach down.

She felt him slide into the bed next to her. When a cloth soaked in ice cold water was pressed against her temple suddenly, she shrieked in surprise and pulled away from him, the freezing wetness making her skin rise in goose pimples immediately.

"No. Come back here." He pulled her back to him and pressed the icy wet cloth to her face again. "Just lie still. All the nerves on the left side of your head are constricted right now. The coldness will help open the blood flow again." He ran the cloth onto her neck, and she fought him. "Lie still! Or I'll be forced to bind you to the bed."

She stilled under that threat, and submitted to his touch, squealing softly as he ran the frigid cloth down her arm, and then lifted her shirt slightly to run the cloth against her side before he came to her temple again. She began shivering, cursing him under her breath, which he ignored, only dipping the cloth into the water again and repeating the process.

He held his body away from her, leaving her shaking with the cold, her teeth chattering, and continued his ministrations for several more minutes, until she knew her lips were turning blue. This was cruel!

But through her chills, she realized the pressure was slowly lessening in her head, the pounding growing quieter and less intense. Her left eye slowly opened again, the swelling nearly gone. The waves of nausea died down as well, until her stomach was calm and relaxed once again.

He made one last pass with the cloth and she sighed as the last of the pain faded, her body sinking into the blankets.

"Better?"

"Much. Thank you. But I'm freezing! Can you stop now?" she begged, trying to get the covers back up to her chin.

"Yes, your torment is over." He turned in the bed and she listened as the cloth was dropped back into the bowl of water with a wet plop. He turned back to her, lifting the covers to bundle up around her shoulders. She gladly accepted them, cocooning herself deep, willing her shivers to stop.

She was almost disappointed when she felt the extra weight leave the bed as he stood and left the room. With a sad sigh, she let her exhaustion overcome her as she fell back asleep.


Kurama pressed his thumb and forefinger against the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut. "This is pointless..." he growled. "We've been searching all night, and any time we think we're close, some of Toguro's thugs are watchdogging nearby."

Yusuke slammed his fist against the steering wheel, startling Kuwabara slightly. "Well then what should we do? We can't just sit here."

"Yusuke," Kurama reasoned with regret. "We don't have much other choice..."

Yusuke's visage turned darker, but before he could retort, his pocket began ringing. All three held their breath expectantly, but it wasn't Hiei, it was Keiko. "Hello?" Yusuke answered it softly.

"What's going on? Are you alright? Did you find them?"

"Slow down. One question at a time. No, we didn't find them, and no I'm not alright."

"Don't snap at me, it isn't my fault."

"I know," he mumbled. "Sorry."

"Oh, Yusuke. Don't worry, we'll find them."

"Yeah, yeah..."

She paused. "I love you, Yusuke."

"Uh..." He glanced uneasily at Kuwabara and Kurama, feeling his heart constrict. "I lo—"

"My phone!" Kurama gasped, flipping open his phone as it vibrated noisily. "He–"

"Kurama. It's me. I don't have long. The lines could be wired." The voice sounded strained and exhausted, but was instantly recognizable.

"Of course. Where are you?" Yusuke and Kuwabara instantly fixed him with identically harsh expressions, knowing it could only be Hiei.

"Mukuro's."

Kurama thought for a moment, brow furrowing. This was an interesting development. But still– given the other option...

"You know you have to stay there until tomorrow night."

An indiscernible noise sounded on the other line. "I know..."

"How's..."

"She's fine considering the circumstances."

Kurama mentally sighed with relief. "Contact me again tomorrow."

"Hn. And don't forget to contact the office and tell them—"

"I know, Hiei."

There was silence for as long a pause as they dared allowed in the risky setting. A million words were spoken in the silence."Tomorrow, Kurama."

Click.

Touching as always. He looked to Yusuke and Kuwabara. "He's at Mukuro's."


Botan awoke to an unnatural silence. She sat up, panic gripping her as she realized she didn't recognize her surroundings. Slowly, memories made their way back to her groggy mind in bits and pieces. She remembered her migraine and Hiei's treating of it. A small sense of relief made it's way to her conscious. At least Hiei was here. She would be alright.

Physically, anyway. Mentally, she felt more worn than she ever had in her life, and it was all because of Hiei Jaganshi. He was so confusing! She groaned and buried her head into her hands. She almost wished he were a jerk all of the time, instead of flashing these tantalizing encounters of kindness and mutual attraction in her direction. Running a hand through her hair, she climbed out of the bed, running through the night's events in her mind once more. Before she knew it she was pacing. Though it had been less than enjoyable, if it hadn't been for Hiei... things would have been much worse. She needed to talk with him so badly, it was almost maddening. She needed to destroy this insidious thing between them, whatever it may be.

She rushed out of the door without thinking, and almost collided with a taller woman. She gasped before she could stop herself upon seeing the cyborg qualities of her right side. She could feel her heart pumping wildly in her chest. "Where's Hiei?" she stuttered quickly.

The woman narrowed her good eye, a faint gleam entering it. "I'll take you."

Wordlessly, she left, and Botan followed, expecting that was she was supposed to do. Botan hardly paid attention to their surroundings, although she took heed of the many stairs they were climbing. They reached an old, decaying door and stopped.

"The roof," the woman said. And then like a ghost she was gone, leaving a haunting chill in her wake. Botan wanted to thank her, but couldn't find the words or prerogative. She had to be the host of their more recent accommodations, although Botan couldn't think of what her association with Hiei could be.

She faced the door, but paused with her hand a breath away from the door handle. Memories flooded her. She froze, transfixed at the rush of unwanted recollections —the dance, the serenity on his face as he slept, the care in his touch, versus the severity in those eyes— All of a sudden, she found it incredibly hard to breathe. She turned to flee, but caught herself. She had to face him.

But how can I face him with this fear dogging my every stepand why, why am I so afraid?

There was no peace to be had, not anywhere. She closed her eyes. And there was only one way to be rid of it.


He knew he should sleep. He knew getting some rest would help clear his mind and would renew his body for the long, hard struggle he had ahead, but he couldn't sleep. Once again, thoughts of a certain girl consumed his mind and made slumber virtually impossible. The only thing he could do... was play.

"I thought you had a piano here..." He griped, irritable.

"I do." She arched an eyebrow. "No one uses it but you, and since you're never here, it's on the roof."

"The roof?" He echoed. To get to the roof of the building, you had to leave Mukuro's living area and transcend many floors of abandoned, crumbling architect. To put something on the roof was pointless and inane. No doubt she had done it on purpose.

Narrowing his eyes, he said carefully, "Fine," and began the trek.

The roof was much like everything else, except the bottom, hidden section that Mukuro had wisely deemed her home: broken, desolate and ghost-like. There had been the piano, water-worn and battered, but still useable. It had only taken seconds for Hiei to tune it, and then he was off, lost in his own world.

He couldn't possibly stay here until the next night. Who knew what would happen? Already, he could feel his demon self tugging at his very soul, aching to be free. When the moon had fully risen, he would have little to no control over his thoughts and actions. The thought of subjecting Botan to that was sickening.

He had buried his mind so deeply into the music, he didn't know she was there until he heard the feeble voice.

"I thought I heard that music."

A torrent of emotion crashed through him as he turned slowly to face her, but he kept his face cool and indifferent as always. Silence hung in the air like a storm, more tensely than it ever had before. He gazed at her, not being able to help labeling her as the woman he... loved. Love. That word would not come easy to his lips. He looked away. He couldn't think properly when she looked at him like that.

After a moment, she tentatively took a few steps forward. "I came to thank you..."

When he still said nothing, her voice belied a hint of anger. "Of course you have nothing to say now." She paused taking a breath, now only feet from the piano bench where he sat. "Hiei, I want you to tell me what's going on. And I want to know the truth."

He glanced sharply at her. "And what if I told you the truth?" His voice held that familiar sinister ring as he slowly stood up, meeting her eyes. "I'll tell you everything, Botan, if that's what you want to hear."

"I want the truth," Botan demanded, feeling both amazed at her boldness and afraid at the same time. "No more hiding. No more acting."

"Are you certain?" he asked, and one brow rose deviously. "Perhaps the truth would make you more afraid."

"I think that no one is more afraid of your truths than you."

"My, my." He chuckled tensely, wondering how she always managed to strike so close to the core of him. But he did well in covering it. "Aren't we bold?"

"One has to be, under such... circumstances."

"I would venture to guess that you hide your true fear of me." The bitterness was evident in his voice.

Botan laughed, not caring if she angered him. "You can venture to guess anything you like," she growled, "but I think it's time you start owning up to the truth and stop treating me like a child, Mis-ter Jaganshi."

Hiei narrowed his eyes. "I think I liked you better when you were a quivering child."

Botan's eyes flashed with anger, and with uncanny timing, the sky suddenly lit up with a flash lightning, followed by a large clap of thunder that made her expression more ominous. Hiei glanced to the sky, stepping unwittingly towards Botan protectively. Seconds later, the heavens opened, down pouring on them. "Way to go, sweetheart."

Botan found his attempt at humor irritating when she was so consumed with unventable emotion. It suddenly became too much to bear, and she put a hand over her mouth in a feeble effort to stop the sob catching in her throat.

"Oh please," Hiei drawled with disgust. "You're not going to cry, are you? It's just a little rain."

"Shut up!" she screamed at him, deciding it was about time he received some of the wrath he had so painstakingly earned. "You're the stupid fool who got me into this mess. If it weren't for you, I'd be home, sleeping in a warm, dry bed. But no! Here I am, no clue where, with you," she hissed. "You," she repeated huskily, turning on him like a rabid cat, transferring all her hurt and confusion into cold, blatant anger. "You... you bastard! You cold, black-hearted, unfeeling, sinister wicked bastard!"

"You flatter me." He arched an eyebrow and lifted a crooked smile. To Emma, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. All this time she had struggled to keep her dignity, if only to keep his ego in check. And now that she couldn't hold it any longer, Hiei was lapping it up like a starved puppy, arrogance and pride filling his red eyes with amusement. At the risk of her own safety, Botan moved away enough to get some good momentum behind the hand that slapped him. It stung her hand so badly that fresh tears burned into her eyes. But Hiei hardly flinched, as if taking such pain had been well rehearsed. With no hesitation she slapped him again with her other hand, doing her best to make it hurt more. Still, he hardly moved. But the humor had fled from his expression, leaving only that cruel I dare you to cross me glare.

Botan groaned in frustration. He was enjoying her misery and she wanted to see some misery from him. "You're not even human." She grabbed his shirt collar into her fists and shook him, wondering where her resolve had gone to tenderly confront his feelings. He still showed no reaction and she started hitting his chest with her fists. "What kind of thing happened to you to make you so horrible?" she shouted.

With little effort, Hiei took her wrists into a firm, powerful grip. "I think that's enough," he stated calmly, but Botan fought with everything left in her to continue her fruitless retaliations. Hiei shook her abruptly, forcing her to realize who was in control. When physical release was no longer possible, Botan succumbed to a throaty sob that ushered her tears back tenfold. She tried to break free, if only to hide her emotion, but Hiei maintained his grip, holding her, watching her, as expressionless as a rock.

Botan hung her head forward and found it had nowhere to go but against Hiei's chest. Once more she tried to hit him, but ended up with her face buried in the rain-soaked shirt that was plastered to his skin. Her fists futilely pushed him away, then suddenly she took hold of him in blatant desperation. The cause of her pain became the buffer, and she cried helplessly while he just held her.

Hiei gave in to the urge to put his arms around her, wondering what he was doing here. Botan was right. She should have been home, and he should have never dragged her into this mess, however unintentional it had been. Every name she called him was pure truth, and the sting in his face reaffirmed it. So why was she holding to him as if letting go would leave her to drown?

He willed himself to release his grip, wondering if she would do the same, but he only felt the wet fabric tighten around him as she drew more of it into her fists, her knuckles turning white from exertion. He felt helpless and confused, and it wasn't easy for him to put his arms around her again, more tightly, in a feeble attempt to offer the comfort she was seeking. The part of him that longed to give it was too lost in the rest of him, the demon responsible for her pain. Her obvious vulnerability made him wish she were dependant upon anyone but him at this moment. He wasn't the kind of person that should be holding her this way.

Angry at her for making him feel guilt, he took hold of the back of her hair to force her to look at him. "It's not working, you know." His voice was sheer malevolence. "Tears won't soften me."

She glared angrily at him. "Nothing will soften you! Your heart is as cold and hard as ice!"

He met her eyes evenly. Her anger was much easier to handle than her tears. "I couldn't agree more."

Botan watched him closely, hating herself for wanting him to kiss her. She was so lost in the scarlet, unfathomable orbs which swirled unstably with a variety of emotions, she wasn't prepared when he did. As his lips came over hers she gasped from shock, and a fear more tangible than anything she had known before. Hiei did have power over her; a power more intense than any cruelty could match. And he wasn't even aware of it. As far as she could see, Hiei didn't have a clue about what was happening between them. Botan willed herself not to respond, but the power was too great. Her strength left her and she succumbed.

She never experienced, never imagined that heat could swell, rise, and then wash over you, drowning out all else, leaving you clinging to something to keep you from falling over the edge into its depths.

She learned it on the rain-soaked roof, her mouth moving over his in a kiss born of desperation and passion.

For a long moment, it was as if their minds became detached from their hearts, and their kiss became deep and mutual. Botan felt herself drowning. Her fingers threaded and tugged through his hair, thick and wet and dark. Hiei's kiss deepened with some kind of desperation. Botan instinctively eased closer as his embrace tightened.

Hiei groaned suddenly and jerked his lips free as if they'd been burned. His eyes turned fierce, and he took her shoulders into a firm grip. "Stop it!" he demanded. "Just stop— What warped notion possessed you to... Are you insane? Or just stupid? Don't you know what kind of man I am? Don't you know why you're here? I hate you, Botan. You... you ignorant, pathetic girl. I hate you!"

Botan watched him rant much the way she had ranted not so many minutes ago. She listened with no expression, and gave no resistance to his spiteful lips as they against her throat, nearly devouring her with kisses, while he said it over and over, "I hate you, Botan. Can't you see how I hate you?"

Botan said nothing, her throat constricting at his words. Slowly, the truth began to sink in, his passion betraying him. He claimed it was hate, and he had intimidated her, held power over her, cruelly manipulated and threatened her enough to almost make her believe it. But then she recalled his little kindnesses, his endearing traits that had seeped through, and she would have bet her life that the line between love and hate in Hiei's heart was very thin.

When he pulled back, the rain dripping steadily off his face and his eyes lowered, Botan studied him. "Hiei?" she said weakly.

He raised his eyes to meet hers with an onslaught of mixed emotions. "What?" he finally said, as if none of the past actions had occurred.

She smiled feebly, a strangled sob rising to her throat. She drew her lips up towards his once more, watching as his eyes slid close in reluctant acceptance. But before contact was made, the door to the roof was opened.

"You have a message."

It was the woman who's house they were staying at. Her face was mostly concealed behind various cloths, but Botan could sense the vivid tension that immediately sprung through the air upon her arrival. Hiei glanced at Botan before removing himself from their embrace, moving away.

"Hiei, wait," Botan attempted softly.

He turned to face her for a brief moment before quickly turning and heading in the opposite direction, stalking past Mukuro without a word. After he left, Mukuro and Botan held each other's gazes for a prolonged moment, the rain turning into a slight drizzle. Botan could think of nothing to say.


J.J. - We're nearing the end, folks.