Disclaimer: I neither own YYH nor profit from fanfiction.
Summary: Kurama wouldn't approve. Even Botan didn't know why she did it. But when Karasu came to her with his final request, she found that she couldn't say no. KxK
A/N: The story starts right after Toguro has killed Genkai, and Botan comes to take her soul.
Genkai opened her eyes to find herself floating out of her body in midair, face to face with Botan.
She smiled cynically. "Didn't think I would have lasted that long. It's nice to see that old age hadn't robbed me of everything."
Botan forced a tremulous smile, not trusting herself to speak. She gestured to the place beside her on her oar. The sooner she escorted Genkai to Reikai, the better: she was overwhelmed with the urge to sob uncontrollably, but she knew the old lady would disapprove of any fuss made over her death. Still, nothing was going to keep her from having a good, long cry by herself somewhere after Genkai had been properly settled.
Genkai seated herself on Botan's oar, but before they could soar away, the sound of swearing reached their ears. Looking down, they saw Yusuke slumped against a tree, bleeding and crying. In the distance, Toguro was walking away.
She rolled her eyes. "Stupid boy! I told him not to worry about me. He's got more important things to think about." She scrutinized him more closely. "Looks like he's taken quite a beating. He'll need to work harder."
Botan ventured, "Please don't be so hard on him, Baa-san. We must have confidence in him."
"Hmph." But Genkai's face relaxed into a fond smile, and she murmured to her oblivious protégé, "You'd better not lose!"
Turning to Botan, she said serenely, "Let's go!"
Botan admired Genkai's peace of mind about her own death, but it had only made her more frantic to contain the grief which was threatening to spill down her cheeks at every moment. Consequently, by the time she had left Genkai in the hands of several capable onis, she felt headachy from her suppressed tears. Upon returning to Ningenkai, she found a secluded clearing in the forest where she was sure that no wandering youkai could run across her, and where she could weep and mope for several hours.
She had no desire to see Koenma at the moment, as he'd had little patience for her distress over this, having always matter-of-factly accepted Genkai's death as inevitable. As for the others—they weren't supposed to know, even if Kurama and Hiei were astute enough to sense it, and she was certain that Yusuke also preferred to mourn alone.
The worst of her crying subsided after an hour, and she lay on the grass, fiddling with her oar and gazing at the sky. Memories of Genkai flashed through her mind, and she was replaying each scene in her head when she was suddenly interrupted.
There was a step behind her, and a long-suffering voice said, "I think I've given you enough time to sulk. I must discuss something important with you."
"Aiiee!" Botan yelped. Had someone been watching her all this time? She scrambled to her knees and whirled around to face the interloper, snatching up her oar.
"How long have you been here? What do you want? Who are you?" she screamed in one breath, wielding her oar menacingly and hoping that her eyes weren't too red and puffy.
Once she saw who it was, she gasped and tightened her grip on the oar.
"Put that down," Karasu said dismissively, coming closer. "You are a ferry girl for Koenma, correct? I started looking for you as soon as I thought you had returned from Reikai, and I've been waiting—very patiently—for you to calm down so I can ask you a few questions."
When Botan didn't lower her oar, Karasu sighed and flicked his wrist at it. The blade of the oar exploded, several splinters narrowly missing her face.
Botan sprang to her feet, angry and afraid. "What is your problem? Leave me alone!"
The others must be wondering where I am, she thought frantically. They'll come looking for me soon. She remembered hearing from Koenma that Karasu was a noted sadist who, despite having lost to Toguro, posed a formidable threat in battle. She hadn't seen much of him before, and had no idea what he could possibly want to ask her. His mysterious ability to create explosions, coupled with his unsettling demeanor, frightened her—and he apparently knew that she had taken Genkai's soul after Toguro had finished.
Karasu raised an eyebrow. "I realize you're upset about your friend, but that's why I waited before approaching you. The sooner you calm down, the sooner we'll be done."
The phrase "we'll be done" had an ominous ring to it, and at this time, Botan was seeing death everywhere. Still, she dropped the remnant of her oar. He couldn't seriously be here to kill her (well, she couldn't technically even die anymore), but she eyed him suspiciously.
"That's better," he said, and though she couldn't see his mouth, she thought he was smiling. He came even closer and sat down at Botan's feet, drawing his legs up and putting his hands on his knees. He looked up pointedly, and Botan reluctantly sat next to him.
"What did you want to know?"
"What is it like to die?" he asked without preamble.
Botan reddened and stared.
"Surely," he said with some impatience, "this isn't a sensitive topic for you?"
When no answer was immediately forthcoming, he sneered, "This isn't about Genkai, so just answer the question."
Fearful that he might grow angry and explode something else, Botan said warily, "It depends how you die. That's too general a question."
He thought about it. "What happens between the instance a youkai dies and the moment you take his soul? Does he know that you're taking his soul? How long do you stay at the site of death before taking the deceased to Reikai?"
She grimaced at the morbid nature of his inquiries, but answered, "People have told me that after dying, I'm the first thing they see when they open their eyes, like they've just woken up. The soul doesn't leave the body instantly, so they don't know how long they've been dead, but it only takes a few minutes at most." Botan bit her lip. "The souls are conscious—a lot of the time they're scared and confused, and I have to explain what's going on." That hadn't been the case this afternoon with Genkai, though.
"The explanation takes five minutes at the most. I'll insist they get on my oar and tell them more on the way. We don't have all day, because there are always more people dying in other places, and Koenma gets mad when there's a backup of souls. Here, at the Dark Tournament, most youkai know what's going on and there are so many deaths in such a concentrated area that the ferry girls can't waste any time with explanations. They swoop in, grab the soul, and fly off."
The intensity of Karasu's expression as he listened was unnerving.
"When fighters die in the ring, who takes their souls? You can't be doing all the work by yourself."
Botan knew that Koenma didn't want Reikai's procedures to become common knowledge, but she replied, "There are several other ferry girls working here, but they're keeping themselves invisible from everyone. Koenma and I are the only ones who can see them. I'm not even officially on duty here." Genkai was… a special favor.
Karasu seemed satisfied. "I thought so. You're going to be watching from the stands tomorrow. Someone else will have to take his soul when he dies."
Tomorrow was the finals, in which Karasu would be fighting. Was he talking about someone on his own team, or someone on Team Urameshi?
"Who…?" Botan began.
"I am fighting Kurama tomorrow. One of us will die. The odds are in his favor… so to speak."
Botan scowled, grasping his meaning. "Don't be so sure about that," she snapped.
"Oh, I'm not," he said lightly. "I'm not absolutely certain that he will die, as wounding to my pride as that admission is. This is the main reason I've sought you out, actually."
Botan remained stubbornly silent, refusing to ask him what he wanted this time.
"It's very simple. In the event that Kurama manages to kill me, I want the ferry girl in charge of my soul to allow me to stay and watch him walk out of the ring. It won't take too long, and I want his beautiful face to be the last thing I see before I'm taken to Reikai."
Botan was repulsed. She hadn't known that Kurama had picked up an admirer at the Dark Tournament.
"Does Kurama know about you?" she demanded.
"I had the opportunity of introducing myself to him this afternoon."
She could tell Karasu was leering behind his mask. While Genkai was dying, Kurama had been receiving sexual advances from Toguro's lackey. Botan wanted to scream.
Disgust seeping into every word, she asked, "What makes you think I'd agree to your request?"
"If I die tomorrow, this will have been my final request. It's traditional to honor the dying wish, isn't it?"
Karasu was right. As long as she had been a ferry girl, Botan had always tried to ease the passing of others. When she had the time and the ability, she granted the last requests of the deceased, if they had any. Doing these small favors helped her retain her humanity, which otherwise would have been lost long ago in the depressing job of a Grim Reaper. She had never gotten used to death, and she felt that taking it lightly—even in the case of an enemy—was dangerous.
What Karasu asked was simple and harmless… and she would have immediately said yes had he been anyone else.
"You said yourself that the chances of your loss are very low. I'm not going to agree to what you ask when—when it's still more likely that Kurama will die. How could I sit there tomorrow and watch you walk out of the ring, knowing that I'd shown compassion to Kurama's murderer?" The tears were starting up in Botan's eyes again. As much as she hated to admit it, Karasu was vastly stronger than Kurama. She was beginning to accept that another of her friends would soon be dead.
Karasu regarded her intently. If Botan looked at him closely, she would have seen that his eyes were pained despite his coolly composed expression. "I will be honest with you. I am undeniably stronger than Kurama. But I cannot imagine myself winning, and this is more troubling than it might sound. I can't envision life without Kurama now that I've seen him."
Botan frowned, blinking at her tears. "What…?"
"He got past my defenses. He got in too far. I should have killed him before this happened. I still have one chance. But the best opportunity has already passed, and I am disturbed that I let it go."
Karasu regretted that he hadn't blown Kurama up the day he had put his hands around his neck in the hallway. He knew he would never have a chance like that again.
Botan couldn't have known how privileged she was at that moment: few people had ever heard Karasu expressing his own vulnerability without being killed immediately afterward. She must have sensed something of it though, for she said hesitantly, "Very well—I grant your request."
"Good girl," he said quietly. "But what I just said wasn't a guarantee that I will make things easy for Kurama. He may be more distracting than I'd like, but I will try to kill him. Do you still agree to what I ask?"
This seemed to set Karasu at peace. He smirked suddenly. "Did you know Toguro and Genkai were lovers? But don't keep that in mind when it's his turn; he isn't worthy of your mercy."
Botan's eyebrows flew up, either in surprise or outrage, but Karasu didn't give her a chance to respond. His hand shot out and he ran his fingers through her ponytail; the tips of his fingers grazed her shoulder in an obscene parody of a loving caress.
"You have beautiful hair. Teach Kurama how to take care of his, won't you? He's so careless." But not as careless as I'm going to be tomorrow, Karasu added mentally, with a pang in his heart.
He stood as he spoke, and Botan raised her head furiously to yell at him, but he had gone as mysteriously as he had come.
The next day, Botan rushed out of the stadium a few minutes before the first match of the finals began. When Shizuru found her crying outside, she thought it was for Genkai's death, and Botan played along. Even with her psychic powers, Shizuru had no way of knowing that Botan didn't want either of the first contestants to die, though one of them must.
During the match, Botan saw what Karasu had meant about being careless. Though no one else would have agreed that Karasu was showing an unusual amount of mercy, Botan took note every time Karasu could easily have killed Karasu and didn't, choosing to torture him instead. When Kurama's plant began sucking out his blood, Botan closed her eyes in despair.
When she opened them, she saw Karasu floating in the air several feet above his body, gazing at Kurama's back with a frightening hunger as Kurama staggered away. The ferry girl next to Karasu was looking at him uncertainly, unsure whether he would go with her of his own volition, or if she would have to pry him away from the sight of Kurama's retreating form.
As soon as Kurama exited the ring, however, Karasu tore his eyes away and found Botan in the crowd. He smiled cynically at her and inclined his head in thanks; Botan noticed that in death his mask was missing.
Then he turned to the ferry girl beside him and they left together. This time it was Botan who watched him recede into the sky, and she realized with a jolt that she, and not Kurama, had been the last person Karasu had seen before being taken to Reikai.
She couldn't ponder it very long, though, because she had to concentrate on stopping her tears: the other girls would wonder why she was still crying after Kurama had won.