How Far To Trust
Rating: K

A/N: This isn't so much a story as an observation/idea masquerading as a story. Oh, and an excuse for me to include Botan in my writing. :)

Round three of the Dark Tournament was upon them. The fighters were exhausted, the fans were screaming murder, and a blue-haired ferry girl sat on the grass by the ring, closer by several leagues than she ever wished to be to the Dark Tournament. She pillowed the injured Kuwabara's head on her lap, keeping him still, and watched with her heart in her throat as the two standing members of her team maneuvered, desperately and carefully, towards an improbable victory.

Kurama was in the ring, having managed to talk Yusuke into letting him fight. Yusuke was pacing the sidelines, his eyes never leaving the ring as Kurama took setback after setback and remained fighting, beating one opponent and moving on to the second. Watching the intensity of his gaze, Botan was forcibly reminded of a conversation she'd had with him little less than a month ago.

She had come to cheer him up from his training with Genkai, but despite her intentions talk had invariably shifted to the upcoming Tournament. She couldn't remember what had sparked it, but something she said about trust made Yusuke go all distant and quiet. She had been alarmed, and demanded to know if there were any of his teammates he didn't trust. When he answered in the negative she still persisted, asking then who he trusted the least.

And his answer, candidly spoken, had been, "This is gonna sound a little screwed up, but it's Kurama."

"Kurama?" Botan had nearly fallen. "You don't trust Kurama?"

"Nah, I trust him. But you did ask who I trusted least. I mean, Kuwabara's out of the question, I've known him the longest and he's the only one who hasn't been in trouble with the law." They hadn't known then who their fifth fighter would be. "So that leaves Hiei and Kurama. And I know everyone would expect me to say Hiei."

"Well, yes! Hiei tried to kill you and Keiko--and me, by the way--and Kurama helped you..."

"I know, Botan. But the thing is, I understand why Hiei tried to kill me. And I understand why he's not trying to anymore. I know exactly how far I can trust him, and I know where not to trust him too. I can understand how his mind works, just like I can understand Kuwabara. I'd be lying if I said I understood the first thing about Kurama's mind."

"But Kurama saved you..."

"And I don't know why he did it!" Yusuke had paced a bit, frustrated. "I know what he said, but it doesn't make sense to me. So because I don't understand him, I can't trust him." He had looked at Botan to see if she understood. "I think I could put my life in his hands, and I would come out alive on the other side; I think I could put Keiko's life in his hands, or the fate of my mission, and it would be alright. But I'm just guessing. I don't know. I can't trust him not to do something I can't understand, or anticipate. So I can't really trust him. Do you see?"

Botan had said yes. She had thought she understood. But now, watching the battle play out, she realized how little she had, how much more she understood now.

Because now, Kurama was dead on his feet in the ring, having made a decision that Yusuke couldn't have possibly understood or anticipated. And yes, Kuwabara was berating himself for being unable to fight, and Hiei's arm was twitching, but Yusuke--

Yusuke was screaming, on his feet and screaming at the top of his lungs. Yusuke refused to let it be so. The others would have fought exactly so far and no farther: they would have accepted a battle and, once accepting it, seen it through to the end. But Kurama saw past the end of the battle; and in accordance with that, he had made a plan that sacrificed himself and let the rest of the team live. And Yusuke, the leader of the team, had wholeheartedly refused that sacrifice.

He found a way to counteract it. He foiled Kurama's plan with a threat that would have brought the world down around them if he'd acted on it, but he did it because Kurama's life meant more to him than it did to Kurama. He would have done the same, easily, for any of his other teammates, but Botan knew with equal certainty that none of the others would have put him in that situation. The battle she was watching was as much between Kurama and Yusuke as it was between Team Urameshi and Team Masho; because they fought so differently, they were sometimes fighting each other, even as they reached for the same goal.

Yusuke had won this round. It had taken something straight from his gut, that and some fancy footwork, but he had come out one step ahead of Kurama and able to finish the fight himself. Yet she noticed how, even as he fought, he kept glancing at Kurama, kept checking on him between the rounds. And she knew he was worried about more than Kurama's health. He was trying to figure out what Kurama was thinking, trying to stay that one step ahead, because he couldn't trust Kurama not to do something he wouldn't understand, or accept.

And she saw Kurama, too, looking up into the ring when he could spare a moment from holding the death plant back, looking confused and very nearly hurt as he tried to pick his way through why Yusuke had acted the way he did.

Boys, Botan fumed silently. If only they would talk to each other. True, they would not, could not, ever trust one another to act as they themselves would act in a given situation. But it was clear now that they could trust each other to hold the other's life higher than his own. And in the absence of understanding, that would have to do.