Standard disclaimers apply. Chapter done in Botan's point of view.

First of all, I would like to apologize to everyone for even thinking of discontinuing this fanfic. I swear, I never wanted to, it's just that my brain stopped ticking for this fanfic. But I'm trying now, so please be patient with me, okay? ^.^ This goes without saying: my writing has changed. Not drastically, mind you, but you might notice it. I don't use much fan girl Japanese anymore, and I suppose my choice of words have changed as well. I may have stopped writing much K+B, but I went on writing anyway. And so, after what seems like a year since the last I touched this fanfic, I apologize again and I give you my promise that I'll try my hardest to continue what I've started. *bows*

Dedication goes to everybody who told me to continue. Special mentions go to Raven (I forgot why ^^; All I know is that you're always the one who tells me that I'm not forced to do anything, but you made me want to continue so badly because I feel really guilty o.O) and Eunc (thanks a LOT! *throws a mad fit* You gave me the worst guilt-spree I ever went in! XP But yeah, I really appreciate that really long review O.O)

Chapter 16

My trip back to Reikai was strangely fast. One minute, I was flying through the crimson clouds of dawn and the next, I'm facing the high gates that lead inside the vast palace of Enma Daioh. I supposed that I was too busy thinking of everything that happened that I didn't realize where I was going. It was all too well that the way from Ningenkai to Reikai was all but tattooed inside my mind lest I get myself lost with my own lack of attention.

But I just can't help it. Something strange, something wonderful just happened and it's so difficult to get it out of my head. It was surprising that though Kurama and I have turned away from each other more than I am willing to count, when we end up speaking to each other again, it still brings out the same feelings from me. So much has happened that smiling was all I could do in place of mentally shaking my own hand for a job well done.

What I had asked for Kurama was small, and yet to me it seems so great that the feeling of elation brought me back to Reikai without me even knowing it. I remember the way he asked me to stay, even just until he falls asleep. Koenma-sama gave me until morning, but I was afraid to not be able to leave if I stayed any longer - need I say why? - and so I insisted that I must go. It took little plea to make him understand my urgency, and he smiled in understanding - and I could've sworn there was a mischievous sparkle in those green eyes - before he nodded and closed his eyes.

Friendship. I asked for nothing but friendship, and a chance to start over. I did not ask to bring back what we had, for what we once had seem so chaotic and, despite the many pleasures that it had given me just as well, it was painful nonetheless. I want him to know me more, and I want to know him if ever he changed since we last met.

I was so entranced with my own thoughts that I didn't see the figure that stood by the main stairway until I was mid-way up the steps. But when I looked up finally, I recognized the tall, regal form of my master. He rarely used this form in Reikai, but I didn't have much time to ponder on this thought at first because I all but flew the remaining steps to jump into his arms.

"Koenma-sama!" I exclaimed upon reaching him, hugging him for all he's worth. We ended up in a very messy heap on the floor. I could've sworn that I'd get myself killed if ever anybody saw us. Here I was, a normal ferry girl with the Prince of Death most probably suffocating under my weight.

I seemed to have caught him off-guard, and he wriggled his way from my grip to no avail. "Botan, get your hands off me lest you want to be beheaded!!!" he yelled, still struggling away from my grip.

I let out a small giggle before sitting up, pulling him with me as well. I waited while he fixed himself, pulling and raking on his hair this way and that, then adjusting his tunic. He cast me a very icy glare after that, but I was too happy that I ended up hugging him again, though less enthusiastically. "Thank you!" I said, squeezing him tightly that I could've sworn he let out a small 'meep'. I couldn't help but laugh again.

"I don't think I would want to know why," he said, pushing me off of him yet again, even if he knew I'm not going to budge.

"For giving me some time with him," I said anyway, letting him go finally. I kneeled down in front of his graceless form, tilting my head to one side innocently, further infuriating him. I kept my smile while he fixed himself again, but as time passed by, the smile melted away. I just remembered something. "I know you don't approve," I started, and I felt my eyebrow crease in worry. "That's why, I'm just wondering..."

He was now standing up and was patting away the non-existent dirt from his pants and tunic. "What?" he asked when I didn't show much signs of continuing.

"Well," I was hesitant to continue to be honest, but I did anyway. "Why?" I asked.

For a moment, all Koenma-sama did was stare at me. He then looked around, probably to see if anybody was watching us. "Follow me," he said as he turned his back to walk towards the entrance doors. Wordlessly, I stood up and ran after him.

He led us to his office, and once there, he stood to lean back on his desk. He seemed to be deep in thought, and he had his arms crossed in that slightly intimidating way. Normally, I'm not really afraid of Koenma-sama because despite his bossiness and prince-y attitude, he's still very playful most of the time. But sometimes, one can't help but be reminded that he's the prince of Reikai. One word and he can have you killed. Not that I think Koenma-sama would kill me. I mean, I may be working for him, but I do know that he considers me a friend as well as an employee.

But I suppose that he went into this serious mode and it's starting to get to me. He didn't seem to be very angry a while ago, and he did make me stay behind in Ningenkai. "Anou...Koenma-sama?" I asked, tilting my head to catch his eyes. Just to see what he's thinking about. Or something.

"It's not everyday you cross a ferry girl with a youkai," he started, finally looking up to meet my eyes. I didn't say anything and just merely nodded, silenced by his stare. "I've put myself in much danger for keeping your secret, much more now that I allowed you to be with him. Look, I want to help. But there are just some things that even I cannot change."

"That's okay," I said, hands clasped in front of me. I looked at him then. "I didn't know you're on my side, Koenma-sama. I kind of thought that you were trying to keep us apart."

Koenma-sama shrugged. "Not really. I'm not really siding with anybody. But Kurama isn't exactly the type whom you'd run around with something to hit his head with. We never had much problems with him. That's Hiei's department."

I let out a small laugh at that and offered Koenma-sama a smile. He seemed hesitant to share the smile with me, but eventually, he gave me a small one. Being the prince of Reikai meant that you have to make important decisions, and usually, those decisions require emotional detachment. It may not show, but even if Koenma-sama disregards his own feelings most of the time, he wants those around him to be happy. So much for the Prince of Death, huh? But I suppose that being around death becomes too much sometimes. One can't help but wish for happiness in a place as quiet as Reikai. Even I find myself like that most of the time, and I'm just a child here if one would compare me to Koenma-sama.

"Ne, don't worry about it, Koenma-sama," I said, offering him comfort. I figured he needed it, because he just risked his position again for what he did for me. "I'll never want to put you into trouble. You've helped me enough, don't make my problem with Kurama yours. And besides, we're not like we used to be. I asked to be just friends with him, and he accepted it that way."

I waited for him to respond. It took a while, but eventually, he sighed and straightened up. "All right," he said, casting me an unreadable look. He seemed to want to tell me more, but thought better of it. "And I think we've stayed here long enough. Go and have your rest. I'll call you when I need you."

"Thank you," I said, meaning it in more ways than I can count. I bowed down to him in respect and turned away. My steps echoed through the expanse of his office, being the only sound inside the whole room. I could feel Koenma-sama's eyes following me, and for some reason, I felt something cold in my heart, and it made me turn back to where I last saw him.

Koenma-sama, indeed, was looking at me. His face still held an unreadable expression, and he seemed to be deep in thought. Finally, after a moment of contemplating, he sighed. He seemed to have decided to voice out what he held in a while ago. "We live for eternity, Botan, that our hearts are different from those of mortals. But a heart is a heart no matter how things go, and it never takes orders from anybody. You have a heart of gold, and by that, it takes a firm hold on you."

I can't say I quite understand what he just said, but he didn't look like he meant to explain anything. It seems so strange listening to him this way, but sometimes, Koenma-sama just refuses to be read. His words were sharp though, and he held them firmly.

"There is a legend here in Reikai that says that what would destroy a spirit most is grief. Be careful of what you wish for. Love is a double-edged sword that can bind eternity in chains."

I was quiet the whole way out of his office. Inside my room, I closed my eyes, and in my dreams I thought I heard Koenma-sama's voice. It was a memory I kept in my mind. We were in Ningenkai, looking for Yusuke, and we were waiting for something that still has not yet arrived. In the end, Koenma-sama got bored, and he turned to me. He told me a story.

"There is a legend in Reikai. Of a forbidden love between a ferry girl and a mortal, and of a grief kept for eternity.

"In the highest clouds lives a spirit of a ferry girl who refuses to go back to the palace. Decades ago, she used to hold the spirit of a mortal, one whom she gave her love to. But as time passed, the essence of Reikai itself took the spirit little by little, claiming it around its very being that the man's soul became a part of Reikai itself. In her grief, the ferry girl refused to accept Reikai's claim, and she went around searching for the soul of the one she loves.

"Many claim to have seen the girl, but nobody would dare go near her. For around her stands a heavy air that squeezes the heart inside one's chest, threatening to burst. They say it was her grief, growing and growing that her body wasn't enough to keep it in. It became the spell lingering around her, protecting her from those who want to take her back to the palace. She refuses to come back without her lover's spirit. She was alone in her search, with only her own grief keeping her from all that she has."

* * * * *

The day was pleasant as I stepped inside the Yukimura Ramen Shop. Keiko-chan was nice enough to invite us all. She said that it would be nice to get together with everybody after all that has happened. I think she also wished to cheer Yusuke up. Finding about a part of your past and realizing that you're not completely what you thought you were are enough to keep even a person like Yusuke occupied.


I looked up to see Keiko-chan running from behind the counter to greet me. I gave her a smile and a quick hug. "Keiko-chan, it's so nice to see you again!" I said, truly happy for being there with her. But I'd be lying if I say that I have nothing in my mind. My smile felt slightly strained despite my wanting to show one of my best friends that I'm truly glad to see them.

Koenma-sama's words still burned in my head. It's been a while, and I never got to ask him about it. It's like one of those things that you know you have to figure out for yourself. But no, I'm awful at deciphering things. Not to mention he really scared me with those words. But then, deep down, something tells me I know part of what was meant for me to understand, and that Koenma-sama's just worried that I would hurt myself eventually.

It's Koenma-sama's way of telling me that I can't tell myself to stop loving somebody just by simply telling myself not to. That's not how things work. And what I hate so much is that Koenma-sama's right. Even if I told him I wouldn't do anything to betray or hurt him, I can't deny what we both know. I'm disobeying him just by thinking about Kurama, but I just can't help it. I feel so bad about it, because I also feel like I'm turning against Kurama as well. How can I be friends with him when I can't lower the way I look at him to that level?

I sat alone on one of the tables while waiting for the others to arrive. It gave me a while to think. Shizuru-chan came in next to me, followed by Kazuma-kun and Yukina-chan. Yusuke came in and as usual, fought for a while with Keiko only to end up losing and helping her out in the kitchen. Everyone laughed while watching the two, and even I found myself laughing with them. But it didn't take long for me to keep up because the door opened again, indicating yet another arrival of guests.

The first thing I saw was that familiar shade of blood red, and it was enough to make me hold my breath. Kurama was in his school uniform, Hiei by his side looking as gloomy as ever, casting Kazuma-kun a pointed glare by the time he realized that Yukina was there beside him. The usual greetings.

Everyone seemed to be enjoying the inevitable fight between Kazuma and Hiei that I supposed nobody caught me staring. So different from the silver youkai I met so many years ago, and yet their similarities were astounding just as well. The gentle face of Shuuichi Minamino and the fierce strength of the Silver Kitsune all add up to the beauty that was all his, defining him in ways no person could. His is a beauty meant for the soul, most importantly that of the heart, for no other person was as beautiful even on the inside.

Somewhere along the way, the laughter died down and all that I could see and hear was his face and his voice. He was trying to keep Hiei down with a patience that was distinctly his. But eventually, his eyes rose and seemed to scan the area, and for a moment I felt like I needed to hide. But further thoughts escaped me when his gaze finally landed on me, and a ghost of a warm smile played on his face. A secret smile meant to be hidden from everyone but the girl across the room.

I felt myself blush, for surely no girl wouldn't. It took my remaining common sense to cast him my own smile. But right now we are friends, but still my thoughts of him do not go very well with me. I see him still as the man I owed my life to. And the same one I left my heart with.

Koenma-sama's words played inside my head, and I looked down at my hands. Words are but the things I used to avoid what I wouldn't admit, but in the end, it all comes down the same way.

There is a legend in Reikai. Of a forbidden love between a ferry girl and a mortal, and of a grief kept for eternity. Spirits are forever, but sadness is the weight that will take life even from something as beautiful as an angel.

End of chapter 16