More Than Anyone Else
Disclaimer: I do not own Yu Yu Hakusho!
As the clouds of thick grey smoke and dust settled, all that was left of the stadium was rubble. Hiei glanced over at Botan – who was fawning over Hiro and making sure he was alright – with an unreadable expression. If didn't go back for her, she would have been caught in the explosion; her lifeless corpse buried beneath the remains of the stadium. He shook the image out of his head and frowned. They were safe now, but he still did not condone what she had done. It was thoughtless and reckless and she continually hurled herself into danger time after time without thinking of the consequences.
She seemed to be a bit startled by the use of her name, but by the look on her face she understood the direction the conversation was about to go and was expecting this all along. He could already sense her defiance and he wasn't sure if he had the energy or the patience to deal with it.
Truth be told, he was tired. And he wasn't referring to the heaviness in his bones and the aching in his muscles. He wasn't thinking of the superficial wounds that littered his body or the low level of energy that dragged its way across his system, trying its best to keep him conscious. The physical weariness was something he had become accustomed to. He would never get used to the exhaustion that accompanied having the same fight over and over with Botan; the kind that always ended without a solution. He would admonish her, she would apologize – not for her actions, but for making him worried – he would either ignore or deny or her claim, and just like that they would be back at square one.
Botan finally made her way over to him, where they wouldn't be interrupted or overheard, and something within him stirred. She stood before him, alive and out of harms way because he did something as equally thoughtless and reckless as her by returning to save her.
There was no correcting her habit of thinking with her heart. It would stay with her forever and she would risk her life time and time again for others. He would simply have to do a better job of protecting her, and the only way he could do that was by remaining at her side.
He didn't care if he was put in harms way to protect her; he would risk his life a thousand times over if it meant she was safe. And for the first time in his life, he felt no shame in admitting it.
"Are you alright?" she asked suddenly, pulling him out of his thoughts.
"I'm fine," he answered, the steely guard back up in his gaze. He realized he must have been staring at her shamelessly while he was lost in his thoughts.
She seemed a little breathless and she stared at him carefully.
"What is it?" Hiei asked, raising a brow.
"It's just… the way you were staring at me just now. I…" she paused before shaking her head. "Never mind, I assume you called me over here to talk about what I did earlier."
Botan's eyes widened and her mouth hung open, unable to form any coherent thought.
"No?" she echoed. "I was absolutely positive that you were going to berate me for going back to find Hiro!"
"I was," Hiei insisted. "But everything goes in one ear and out the other with you. You never do as I say."
Botan's expression softened and once again he found himself on the receiving end of one of those looks. In the past, he could never grasp the meaning behind them, but he understood it all too well now and finally, it all clicked. He must have been staring at her the same way earlier. That's why she was so flustered. He berated himself for being so openly foolish.
"You should know," she started hesitantly, causing him to look over at her. "I didn't mean to put you or anyone else at risk. I went back for Hiro for the same reason you came back for me."
Because you care.
The unspoken phrase lingered between them; words were not needed.
"I know," Hiei affirmed.
"Well, I better go check on the girls. Keiko was in pretty bad shape before and Shizuru must be feeling down what with the whole Sakyo deal…"
He still had more that he had to say, but he decided to let her go without a word for now. She was still awaiting a response from him, that much he knew, but he would rather deal with their unresolved issues when there weren't so many eyes and ears around to witness it.
"Thank you, Hiei," she said softly, resting her hand over his and giving it a light squeeze. "For everything you've done for me while we were here."
Her touch was warm and inviting, and for the first time he didn't feel the need to turn away from her. He didn't even care if the others were watching or not and he allowed her hand remain on his for a moment before nodding in response and letting her leave.
When he tore his gaze from her form, he noticed that Koenma had been staring at them with an inscrutable expression.
"What?" Hiei bit out, glaring at the Prince.
"Nothing," Koenma mused innocently, turning his attentions elsewhere.
Hiei opened his mouth to respond, but Kurama had already walked up to him, preventing any possible conflicts between the two.
"Are you alright?" Kurama asked diplomatically.
"I'm alive, aren't I?"
"Yes, but you expended a great deal of energy on the dragon and I'm sure you did the same thing in trying to ensure Botan's and Hiro's safety."
"I'm fine, fox. You should worry about yourself," Hiei advised, looking over Kurama's blood-stained clothing. "You've got your fair share of injuries."
Kurama looked down at himself before lifting his gaze to Hiei with a knowing smile.
"It looks worse than it is, I assure you—"
Suddenly, Botan let out a loud cry, alarming the two demons, as well as the rest of the group. They all turned to see what all the commotion was about.
"What's the matter, Botan?" Keiko questioned hurriedly, putting a hand on the girl's shoulder.
"The victor of the tournament was supposed to get a prize!" she announced. "But how can we do that now if there is no Tournament Committee?"
"You're more concerned over a prize than their deaths?" Kuwabara asked disconcertedly, before frowning and crossing his arms over his chest.
"I didn't mean it like that!" she explained quickly. "It just seems a bit unfair that you boys had to go through all those trials without at least receiving some sort of consolation!"
Kuwabara seemed to think it over for a moment before nodding in agreement.
"It doesn't matter," Yusuke insisted, his brown orbs lingering on the remains of the stadium.
"Why not?" Botan asked, a hand settled on her hip.
"Because, they couldn't have given us what we really wanted anyway," he finished.
They all knew who the detective was referring to. The group seemed to settle into a haze of grief, when a coarse voice shook them out of their thoughts.
"It's touching, really. But how do you expect an old woman to get any rest when all I can hear are the sounds of your whining and whimpering?"
Hiei picked up on the familiar energy signal and turned towards the sound of the new voice. Standing on a hill farther away from the rest of the group, stood the woman who they all mourned.
"Genkai?" Yusuke yelled in disbelief, rubbing his eyes a few times as though her image would fade away once the spell was broken.
Without missing a beat, the girls ran towards the older woman, hugging her affectionately while Yusuke could only stand in his spot with his mouth agape at the mere presence of his mentor.
Genkai stood proudly as she looked towards her student with a stern smile.
"You must have rubbed off on me, dimwit. I died like you: half-assed."
"G-Genkai!" Yusuke exclaimed, shaking out of his stupor. "Come here, you beautiful old hag!"
Hiei couldn't help but watch as Yusuke hugged the old woman. He would be lying if he said he felt completely indifferent to her return. She was his teammate, after all, and they had gone through the same grueling hardships, triumphed over the same foes, and faced the same dangers. Death was not something she deserved, especially not at the hands of Toguro.
"Genkai's revival was all your doing wasn't it?"
Botan's voice broke him out of his thoughts. She was staring at Koenma, eyes shining full of unshed tears and gratitude as she awaited his answer.
Koenma only nodded in return.
"Oh, I just knew you would find a way around it!" she exclaimed hugging him tightly.
"Koenma can be a noble and just ruler when he wants to be," George piped in, causing the Prince to glare at the ogre before unhooking himself from the ferry-girl.
"I didn't want to raise any hopes unless I was completely certain that the conditions for Genkai's return were absolute, so I refrained from telling anyone about it."
"Whatever the case, I'm just glad that she's back. Now we can all return as we came and everything will be back to normal!" Botan exclaimed.
"Not everything," Koenma muttered.
"What do you mean, sir?" Botan questioned.
"Nothing," he said, glancing at Hiei briefly. "Just thinking out loud."
There was no mistaking it; the toddler was certain of the budding relations between Botan and himself. He had never given it any thought before, but their liaisons could have dire consequences. He was a demon and she was a being of the Spirit World; polar opposites and natural enemies. There could very well be some sort restriction concerning the mingling of ferry-girls and demons. While he was never one for adhering to the rules, he did not intend to make things difficult for her.
The revelation caused his anger to swell and he mentally berated himself for not catching on sooner. It wasn't like him to overlook such an obvious fact. He cursed without warning and stalked off, all the while ignoring the wide-eyed stares he got from the others as he left.
The girls had reconvened in their room after spending some time with Genkai. They decided it was best to let Yusuke have some time with her alone, after having gone through the most grueling ordeal of his life.
"I'm so happy that Genkai has returned," Yukina said, before placing a plate of snacks on the table and settling down on the plush couch.
Keiko nodded in agreement before turning to face Botan.
"Did you know anything about Genkai's return?"
Botan shook her head.
"I was just as shocked as you. Koenma didn't want to build my hopes up in the off-chance that he wasn't able to bring her back."
"Makes sense," Keiko said with a nod.
"So, what's with you and Hiei?" Shizuru asked suddenly, taking a seat next to Yukina on the couch.
Botan blanched. She wasn't sure if she wanted to open that can of worms just yet, but she wasn't confident in her ability to keep it a secret, either.
"What do you mean?" she asked sheepishly.
Shizuru gave Botan a knowing look.
"The man rushed back into an exploding stadium to save you. That's gotta say something."
"Well, it says he's not as callous as we all thought. That's all," Botan reasoned, as a light blush crept its way over her cheeks.
"There's something you're not telling us," Shizuru realized.
Botan crossed her arms and turned her head the other way, trying to tune them out. She thought of oars, mejiru seals, demon compasses – anything other than Hiei and the matter at hand.
"And judging by the way you're fidgeting, it's got to be something pretty big," Keiko noted, taking a seat on the couch near Yukina's free side.
Botan twitched and she wondered if she was really that easy to read. She forced herself to stop tapping her foot on the floor and slowed the drumming of her fingers down to a lazy cadence. If she simply continued to ignore them, they would eventually let up.
Shizuru grabbed a chip from the plate on the table and chewed it slowly before swallowing.
"We could sit here all day and guess. Make a little game out of it," Shizuru suggested and Botan's eyes widened nervously.
"Or she might just crack and spill the beans. She looks like she's about to explode with all the info she's hiding," Keiko taunted, reaching out to grab a snack from the table.
Botan pursed her lips tightly; the urge to reveal her secrets were bubbling up and she didn't know how much longer she could hold her gossiping tendencies at bay.
"Perhaps it would be best to just let it out rather than keep it all bottled inside," Yukina urged. "It doesn't seem too healthy."
"You too, Yukina?" she exclaimed, absolutely flabbergasted at the usually docile ice-maiden's interference.
Yukina met her gaze with a small, yet amused smile and Botan's resolve broke.
"Oh, I could never keep anything from you guys, anyway!" the ferry-girl relented before plopping down on a chair and facing the girls on the couch. "Sure a lot has happened event wise… but we've made little to no progress!"
"Why don't you just start from the beginning?" Keiko suggested.
"Alright," Botan began, drawing in a big breath of air.
She told them everything, starting from before the finals when she kissed Hiei, to Hiei coming to her rescue and everything in between. The girls hung on her every word and she was thankful that there were no interruptions because she just wanted to get everything off of her chest immediately.
"Now, the tournament's over and I know that he wants to tell me something, but I just can't figure out if it will leave my heart broken or not."
"Oh, Botan. I think he cares for you, that much is obvious," Yukina said soothingly.
"Do you really think so?" Botan asked. Yukina was Hiei's twin and – even the ice-maiden didn't know it – perhaps she had a better insight into Hiei's thoughts than Botan ever could.
"I do," she answered with a reassuring nod. "He might just be struggling with the proper way to convey his feelings."
"I don't know… I just have this feeling, like whatever he's going to say isn't good."
A knock at the door averted their attention.
"Come in!" Keiko called.
The door opened to reveal Kuwabara. He entered the room after giving Yukina a wide grin and walked over to the girls.
"Just a heads up, but Urameshi is planning some kind of victory party for all the survivors of the tournament. We're gonna have it in that huge ballroom downstairs," he informed.
"A party?" Keiko echoed.
"Yeah, it is our last night and all. He's already all over the island spreading the word."
"The kid's got style. We should kick off our last night with a bang," Shizuru said with a smirk.
"Um, sis? I think we already did that. Literally," Kuwabara muttered.
"Well it's time for some activities that don't result in potential death," she clarified.
"That's true," Kuwabara agreed, before turning towards the ferry-girl. "Hey Botan, could I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure," Botan answered, looking up at him expectantly.
Kuwabara looked around the room nervously before continuing.
She looked back at the others uncertainly and then back at Kuwabara. He was clearly nervous about something, so she conceded and followed him out into the hallway.
"What's so important that your own sister couldn't overhear?"
"I need you to do me a big favor. It's for Yukina."
Hiei had intended on getting some peace and quiet to sort out his next moves concerning Botan when he returned to the hotel, but the peace and quiet had lulled him into a deep sleep. That last round took a toll on his body and he decided not to fight it. When he woke up, he noticed that the sun was already setting as it hung low in the sky.
He dragged himself out of the bed and into the shower. The warm water soothed his muscles and he came out feeling rejuvenated. If only he could clear out his mind as easily as he had with the tension in his muscles.
Hiei certainly didn't want to burden Botan by having her choose between him and the only life she knew with Spirit World. It would be easier to forget all about what transpired on the island and return to normalcy.
He would return to the human world, wait out his probation, and then return to Demon World; free of restrictions, free of Spirit World, and free of her.
There would be nothing holding him back now.
There would be nothing holding her back from returning to her normal life, either.
But, is that what he really wanted?
"Have you figured out what you will do in relation to Botan?"
Kurama's voice broke him out of his thoughts and he finally noticed his comrade sitting on one of the couches. The fox looked much better than the last time Hiei had seen him. His blood-stained ragged kimono was replaced with a new one and the only remnants of the last battle were thin scars which Hiei presumed would fade in time.
"Things have gotten… complicated," Hiei revealed.
"How so?" Kurama pried, his emerald gaze settled on Hiei as he put his book aside.
"I don't want to make things hard on her if there are rules that forbid…" Hiei paused, unsure of how to finish that statement. "…us."
"I'm not too well-versed on Spirit Law regulations, but you could always go straight to the source and find out. Koenma should be over at the older stadium, searching for any leads on Sakyo's plan to connect human and demon world."
He contemplated it for a moment before nodding. It was a good thing that Koenma had isolated himself. It would be easier to talk to him without the others involved.
"One more thing," Kurama said, halting Hiei in his tracks. "Yusuke is holding a get-together for everyone since this is our last night here. It's in the ballroom downstairs. I suspect you'll find Botan there, if you're planning on talking to her later tonight."
Hiei nodded and took his leave. Upon exiting the room, he was greeted with the sight of Kuwabara standing in the middle of the hallway with a ridiculous grin on his face. The psychic was right in front of the girl's room, waiting either to enter or for someone to exit.
"What are you doing?" Hiei demanded.
"Just waiting for Yukina and Botan to finish talking and come out."
Hiei's eyes narrowed fractionally as he stepped closer towards the psychic.
"Were you spying on them?"
Kuwabara held his hands up defensively and shook his head.
"No, it's not like that. I know exactly what they're talking about. Botan is just giving Yukina some good news, is all."
Hiei raised a suspecting brow and Kuwabara shook his head.
"You'll understand when they come out."
Hiei had turned to leave – he wasn't too keen on seeing Botan right now, especially when he was still had no conclusive decision on what direction they should take with their situation – when the sound of Kuwabara's voice stopped him.
"Hey…" Kuwabara began tentatively as he took a step forward towards Hiei. "I should probably thank you for saving Yukina earlier. I don't even want to think of what would have happened if you didn't get her out of the way in time."
Hiei shook his head. Of course he would save her; she was his sister, his responsibility, his duty.
"Yukina means a lot to me, so I owe you one… a big one," Kuwabara said, before scratching the back of his head nervously. "Look, if you ever need anything, even though you probably won't admit it, you can come to me. Even if it's something as little as talking, which you probably won't do, I'll be here. But it's only a one time deal, shorty, and we can't let Urameshi know about it because he'll never let me live it down."
Hiei scoffed. The day he went to Kuwabara for advice would be the day when the sky fell. There was nothing he needed from anyone, least of all the clumsy, dimwitted, and idealistic human standing in front of him. Kuwabara was the one person on the team who Hiei clashed the most with and it was because of their principles. He had a romanticized view on everything; honor, love, and life itself. He believed that he and Yukina were meant to be, although nobody really agreed with him or encouraged it, his feelings never faltered.
"How do you do it?" Hiei blurted out without really thinking.
"Put such blind faith in the concept of love," Hiei explained. "Never mind the fact that she would never accept your feelings in the first place, but Yukina is of demon world and you are a mere mortal from the world of the living. Did it ever occur to you that you both come from two separate worlds governed by two separate bodies of law? Did it ever cross your miniscule mind that there might be rules against the intermingling of demons and humans?" Hiei asked before crossing his arms.
Kuwabara shot Hiei a look of disapproval.
"I'm going to ignore that first part, but as for all the other political stuff you suggested… it doesn't matter. If two people love each other, then you can rise above anything," Kuwabara said as though it were that easy.
As though it were the most effortless thing in the world, but…
"It's not that simple," Hiei argued.
"Yes it is," Kuwabara said firmly. "Love can overcome anything. It's what led me to Yukina when she was in trouble and it's what will keep us tied together no matter what Spirit World or Demon World has to say. I know you think love is a crutch for the weak or whatever, but it isn't. A real man fights for his love until the end."
"Let me enlighten you, you oaf. Once the boats come for us tomorrow and we go our separate ways, Yukina will return to the Ice Village. She will be lost to you forever. Where is your love then?"
Kuwabara contemplated Hiei's words for a few moments before answering.
"If Yukina wants to return, then there's nothing I can do about it. I'll let her leave and I know the red string of fate will eventually lead us back to each other. But if there was even the slightest chance that she wanted to stay in the human world, then I'd find a way for her to stay."
Just then the door opened and Botan and Yukina exited their rooms, filled with excitement and beaming with joy.
"Don't thank me, Yukina, this was all Kuwabara's doing! I was simply the messenger!"
Yukina looked over to Kuwabara with a smile.
"Is it true?"
"Yes Kuwabara was the one that asked Genkai if you could take residence in the temple and then he asked me to speak to Koenma about it after Genkai agreed," Botan revealed excitedly.
Yukina walked over to Kuwabara and took hold of one of his hands.
"Thank you so much, Kazuma. You don't know how much this means to me."
Kuwabara's cheeks tinted slightly as he used his free hand to rub the back of his head sheepishly.
"Aw, it's nothing. I figured it would be safer for you to stay close to us and if we get any word of your brother, it would be easier for us to contact you."
Hiei watched the scene wordlessly and while the thought of Yukina even touching Kuwabara didn't settle well with him, he could see the fruits of Kuwabara's convictions first hand. If even Kuwabara could find a way to ensure his own sister's happiness, then surely Hiei could ensure his own future with Botan. It could be done and he knew exactly who he had to go to.
"Keiko and Shizuru already left for the party. Are you guys ready?" Botan said.
Kuwabara and Yukina nodded.
Botan looked over at Hiei and smiled.
"Will you come too?"
"I will," Hiei answered, surprising the others. "But there is something I have to do first."
Hiei looked upwards to the view of the darkened sky. It wasn't falling nor were there any signs of impeding doom.
And yet he had asked for and willingly received advice from Kuwabara.
He couldn't say he was actually surprised; stranger things have happened on this island.
For example, the demons who had once wished for his death were now saluting and greeting him. He could only assume they were making their way over to the detective's gathering back at the hotel. As he made his way through the forest words of disdain and hateful glares were replaced with amiable words and friendly grins. He ignored them all, of course, not one bit taken in by their sudden change in opinion.
He was headed towards the stadium where they fought up until the semi-finals. As he approached the area, he sensed Koenma's spirit energy on the ground floor. It was better that he got this conversation over and done with in a secluded place.
The door was ajar and Hiei made no attempt to announce his presence before stepping in. He could only guess this was Sakyo's private room within the stadium. It was sparsely furnished, with only a bookshelf, a desk, and a single chair. Koenma was shelving through the books, when he noticed Hiei's presence.
"To what do I owe the visit, Hiei?"
"It's about Botan."
"Ah," Koenma said, placing the book back and giving his full attention to the fire-demon. "I had a feeling this conversation would come up… though I hoped it wouldn't be so soon."
Hiei decided to cut right to the chase.
"If you intend to dissuade me from pursuing Botan, you're wasting your breath. Any decision that I make concerning her will be in her best interest. It will have nothing to do with you or Spirit World's excessive regulations."
Koenma looked taken aback for a moment before he busted out laughing. It wasn't a laughter filled with mirth or humor; in fact, it looked as though the dam holding up his sanity had broken and all that was left was lunacy.
"I fail to see the humor in all of this," Hiei deadpanned.
Koenma's laughter died down and he let out a sigh.
"I'm just relieved. I came here to pull that big brother routine on you, but I suppose it's all irrelevant after hearing what you just said."
"You know, that whole 'if you ever hurt her, I'll send you to the deepest pits of Spirit World Prison,' spiel," Koenma explained raising his hands up to make air-quotes.
"I know what you were referring to; I want to know why you think it's unwarranted now."
"You just said it yourself. Whatever decision you make will be in Botan's best interest. You're a man of your word, Hiei, so I know that you will follow through."
Hiei eyed the Prince suspiciously. His criminal record should have deterred Koenma from even talking to him, yet here he was, making small chat and declaring his trust.
"You've had no reason to trust me in the past, why would you do it now?"
"Because Botan sees something you that I cannot, I suppose. She trusts you and that's enough for me."
"I'm on probation now, but once it lifts, there will be nothing keeping me tied to the human world. How can you trust that I won't leave the minute I am able to?"
"Because you wouldn't be testing me like this if you really meant it."
"Hn. You all presume to know me so well," Hiei scoffed.
"To be honest, I don't know what goes on in your head half the time and that's okay. Mind-reading is your job, not mine. I'm just here to maintain order," Koenma said. "But Botan is a dear friend and her opinion means a lot to me. If she trusts you, then I can learn to as well."
"And, uh, Hiei? Just for posterity's sake, if you ever hurt her, I'll—"
"I know," Hiei cut in, turning away from the Prince and walking away.
It was a tiring day and they should have all probably been sleeping, but everyone was as lively as ever. This was their last night on the island and they were the sole survivors. It was that thought alone that was keeping them awake and energetic. Under the iridescent light of the crystal chandlers, the hustle and bustle of the crowd's movement, and the sounds of laughter and conversation, everyone looked as though they were genuinely happy.
As she made her way around the room, Botan couldn't help but watch the interactions taking place. One would have never guessed that these were the same people who were engaged in the most vicious and brutal of fights. Surprisingly enough, Kurama and Kuwabara were conversing with Suzuka, formerly of Team Uraotogi.
"Those items really came in handy," Kuwabara admitted, scratching a hand at the back of his head. "I don't think I would have been able to beat Elder Toguro without it."
"And I would not have survived had it not been for the potion you provided me with," Kurama added.
Suzuka gave a lazy shrug of his shoulders.
"I suppose. The items are valuable, but it's what you do with them that counts. Never would have expected that I would be helping out the rookies who defeated me, but hey, the enemy of my enemy is my ally."
"I've gotta admit, you sure are a lot different from the first time we met, Suzuka."
"The Beautiful Suzuka," he corrected before smirking to lighten the mood. "Perhaps I'll let it slide for today since you defeated Team Toguro."
"And yet the narcissism remains," Kurama whispered amusedly, to which Kuwabara nodded.
"You humans surprised me as well, you know," Suzuka confessed, returning to Kuwabara's previous statement with careful consideration. "You managed to do what no other demon at this tournament could and became the victors of the Dark Tournament."
Kuwabara opened his mouth to reply, but Botan's attention was averted by the sudden swarm of girls and sounds of their squeals and love-sick sighs. As they shuffled out of the immediate area and settled in another corner of the room, the ferry-girl noticed that Shishiwakamaru had joined the fray.
"That explains the fan-girls," Botan muttered to herself as she turned her attention back to the foursome.
Shishiwakamaru and Kuwabara were now engaged in a squabbling match, and Kurama tried to assuage the argument while Suzuka looked on in amusement. It was an entertaining scene to behold.
Just then, her gaze was shifted towards the source of a loud bellow. Fearing the worst, she turned around immediately, but her worries were allayed when she took in the sight.
Chu was engaged in a drinking contest with a few non-combatants from the audience, taking swigs of beer without a care in the world. Rinku and Hiro stood off to the side, Rinku muttering on about how embarrassing it was when Chu got like this.
Somewhere to the left of that was Yusuke and Jin, engaged in an arm wrestling match. Touya looked on in mild interest, while the announcers Koto and Juri were giving a play by play of the events to the crowd that had gathered to watch. It seemed old habits die hard.
Genkai and George were both making themselves a plate of food, George's plate most likely to be pilfered by Koenma later, while the girls were chatting. As her eyes traveled over the expanse of guests, she was glad to see that everyone could still act civil. From the audience who cheered for their deaths, to the opponents to who came close on many accounts to ending their lives, everyone was here, or what was left of them, at least.
Hiei had even decided to show eventually, although he didn't seem to be interested in any of the festivities. He was leaning against the wall with his hands crossed over his chest, his expression revealing no emotions as his apathetic gaze seemed to be staring nowhere in particular.
There was something that Hiei wanted to say to her; something left undeclared between the two, but she wasn't so sure if she wanted to hear it or not. She could see it in the way he stared at her, the way his crimson gaze followed her, the way his attention always seemed to wander back to her. Even if his eyes weren't on her, she could sense the silent words; feel them as though they were a presence creeping up on her. If it would bring her joy or heartache, she did not know and for tonight, she wanted to remain blissfully unaware. His words had the power to make or break her, but tonight, she just wanted to be happy. She wanted to celebrate the fact that Genkai had returned, that the team was victorious, and that everybody was safe. She wanted to hold on to these feelings, internalize them, relish in them. After days upon days of endless worrying and stress, they were all finally free.
Of course, that freedom did come with a heavy price. Many lives were lost – including someone very dear to Shizuru. Botan looked over at the eldest Kuwabara sibling and frowned. She could tell that beneath her witty remarks and nonchalant attitude, she was hurting.
"Shizuru?" Botan asked, tentatively placing a hand on the brunette's shoulder. "How are you holding up?"
Shizuru fingered the gold plated lighter she had received from Sakyo, a sad smile lingering on her face as she pocketed it.
"I'm a big girl; I'll be fine."
"I haven't the slightest doubt in my mind that you'll recover swiftly. But if you need to talk along the way, I'll be here."
Shizuru's smile lost some of it's sadness as she nodded.
"Yeah, I know."
Their attention was captured by the sight of a staggering Yusuke, followed by Keiko, Chu, and Hiro.
"I survived the toughest Tournament in all three worlds," Yusuke slurred. "I deserve a drink damn it!"
"You've already had five," Keiko muttered, her exasperation going unnoticed by the inebriated detective.
Yusuke grinned as he bent down to Hiro's level and offered him a drink half-jokingly.
"Hey, you want some too, kid?"
Botan immediately snatched the bottle out of Yusuke's hand, casting him a disparaging glare.
"He's just a child have you lost your mind?" she shrieked.
"Geez, lighten up, Bo, I was only kidding!" Yusuke hiccupped.
"Ya snooze ya lose, mate," Chu slurred as he swiped the bottle from Botan's hand and proceeded to walk away casually, with Yusuke hot on his trail.
"Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to have you around all of these bad influences," Botan mumbled as she rubbed her temples.
"Don't worry about me; like I've told you thousands of times before, I can handle myself."
Botan rolled her eyes.
"I'm serious!" he insisted stubbornly as he surveyed the crowd. "Why don't you go over to Hiei? He looks kind of sulky and lonely without you."
"I doubt that. He probably just wants to be left alone."
"That's not what he told me," Hiro revealed casually, his lips curved upwards in a devious smirk.
Botan gave him a disapproving look.
"It isn't right to lie, Hiro."
"I'm not lying," he shot back.
Botan's eyes narrowed as she scrutinized the boy.
"It isn't right to twist the truth, either."
"Believe what you want, but maybe you should go up to him and see," Hiro taunted before taking his leave.
She looked over at Hiei reluctantly before shaking her head and turning away.
Hiei stood in the corner of the room, isolated from the celebrations. He was never one to revel in such activities, anyway. The only reason he had come was to find Botan and tell her what was on his mind. Waiting was never his forte; he preferred to do things as quickly as possible, and if he did not tell her this now, he probably never would.
He had been watching her for some time now, and she hadn't been engaging in anything particularly important. She, like him, was alone, and he was sure that she was aware of his gaze. 'Hn, it figured.' The one time he actually welcomed her presence, she resisted. Finally getting fed up of their little avoidance game, he decided that the time to take action was now.
Just then, a wave of silence washed over the room and Hiei's interest piqued. At the entrance stood Bui; his stature was tall and proud as he strode through the room blatantly ignoring everyone's stares.
Bui came to halt in front of Hiei, focusing solely on the fire-demon. Bui studied him in silence, his expression devoid of anger or malice. He seemed calm, but then again, it was his nature to keep up a calm countenance.
"I don't understand," Bui said, finally breaking the silence. "I've watched all of the battles during this Tournament and one thing has always remained constant: the total annihilation of any foe that got in your way. Why, then, did you spare me?"
"What if I told you there was no reason behind it?" Hiei answered.
"I suppose that's plausible; it just didn't seem in your nature to carelessly leave an enemy alive."
In all honesty, he was not thinking when he spared Bui. Killing Zeru was inevitable; he was testing the capabilities of the dragon and even then he did not know how to control it fully. Makintaro and Kuro Momotaro came at him with the intent to kill and relentlessly exercised this intent, resulting in their swift deaths. Bui was different. He lost and was resigned. He welcomed death, pleaded for it, even. As far as Hiei was concerned, the fight was over. There was no need for anymore actions to be taken.
"It wasn't a haphazard move, nor was it an act of benevolence. I don't particularly care what you do with yourself. If you want your life to be over so badly, then end it yourself," Hiei said harshly, before uncrossing his arms. "But you should know that your reason for living was weak. A true warrior is able to live for the sole purpose of strengthening himself. Defeat should have no impact on your resolve for living."
Bui stared at Hiei for a few moments before speaking again.
"You are a lot different than what I thought you would be; a far cry from the rumors I've heard."
Bui was starting to remind him of another blue-haired annoyance who searched for reasons behind each action he took.
"Enjoy the victory celebrations," Bui said, although Hiei had a feeling that the demon knew all too well that he did not care for such things.
Everyone remained silent as Bui vacated the area and Yusuke was the first to speak up.
"Well, that was creepy. But hey, you could have at least asked your new BFF to join in on the festivities. It's not like he has anywhere to be or anyone to be with," Yusuke said, pausing to scratch the back of his head. "We did kinda kill off his teammates."
"Nice tact there, detective," Chu murmured under his breath while Yusuke merely shrugged in response.
Hiei was beyond the point of listening, though. He walked through the crowd until he found Botan. She was all alone, but she didn't seem to be bothered by that fact and her expression brightened when she saw him.
"How are you enjoying the party?" she asked.
Hiei raised a brow.
"Do you even have to ask?"
"I suppose not. You never were one for parties or gatherings…"
Silence enveloped them and for a moment, neither knew what to say.
"We need to talk," Hiei said, cutting through the silence.
Botan seemed to understand the meaning behind his vague words and nodded. She followed Hiei as he led her outside. She took a seat on the bench and he joined her.
The sky was blanketed with stars and the breeze blew gently against them. Compared to the noise inside of the hotel, the sound of rustling leaves was a welcomed reprieve, but as the seconds ticked away the silence was quickly becoming stifling. Hiei didn't know where to begin, but Botan did.
"It's strange how things change," she began with a smile, her amethyst eyes set on the midnight sky above. "Before all of this happened, I hardly knew you! You were just the ex-fugitive who kidnapped Keiko and nearly killed Yusuke. Despite being a fire demon, you were as cold as ice and to be honest, you frightened me a bit. It seemed like no matter how hard I tried to get closer to you, you were always out of my reach."
"Why did you even bother?"
She turned to Hiei and thought it over for a while, before continuing.
"Well, at first it was because you were a part of the team and I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about you. I got to learn that you weren't as scary as I originally thought and you cared more than you let on," she revealed, ignoring the frown he gave her at that last part. "I found myself enjoying the time I spent with you and pretty soon, you became one of the people I couldn't imagine being without. Do you understand, Hiei?"
He nodded and they sat in silence for a few moments.
"You were an annoying ferry-girl," he said simply, his gaze staring out in front of him instead of at her.
"And now?" she prodded.
"You're still an annoying ferry-girl. You disregard all logical thought and choose to follow your heart instead of your head. You talk too much, you smile too brightly, you care too sincerely, and you're lodged in here," he paused to place his palm against his chest, "too deeply."
"Well, that almost sounded as if you …" she stopped suddenly, too afraid to finish her thought.
"As if I loved you," he finished firmly, his gaze resolute as it rested on hers.
Botan's mouth was slightly agape and she found herself unable to say a word.
"You asked me what I thought yesterday. I won't hide the fact that I do want you, but concerning a relationship and all of the other things that you desire… I didn't think I could commit to those."
Botan couldn't hide the hurt in her eyes as she nodded slowly, forcing the words out of her mouth.
"No, you don't. Not yet, at least."
She stared back at him silently as he continued.
"That's what I would have said. It was the truth then, but things are different now. I've always been alone and I liked it that way. I prefer not to entangle myself in a web of dependent relations, but the more time I spent here, the more I found myself getting used to your presence. If there's one thing I learned on this island, it's that time is fleeting. I realize now, that there is no better moment to grasp what you want than in the present. And the only thing I want at this moment, more than strength, more than power, more than anyone else, is you."
Her eyes filled with tears and they spilled over, leaving Hiei to wonder if she had realized what he was trying to say. He was never good with handling his emotions, much less conveying them.
"Do you understand?" he asked, finally.
She threw herself onto him, crying freely.
"Oh, Hiei!" she cried. "I love you too."
She hugged him tightly and Hiei put his arm around her, feeling as if all the tension that had been suffocating him vanished into the air. The tournament was over, he mastered the dragon, and he accepted the feelings he had for Botan. All of his turmoil – it was all over.
The sound of clapping caused Botan to pull away and Hiei averted his attention over to the source.
"Took you both long enough," Hiro said, his voice cutting through the silent night air.
He was standing in the threshold of the hotel entrance, a self-satisfied smirk pulling at the corner of his lips.
"Hiro… exactly how long were you standing there?" Botan inquired.
"I just got here. I figured I should go back to my hotel since it's getting late and the ferry is coming early," he explained.
The duo stood up from the bench and Hiei's expression turned sour. As usual, Botan was happy to see the child, but Hiei wondered if the boy took any pleasure in the fact that he was always interrupting them.
Botan offered him a smile.
"Well, do you want me to walk you back? This is our last chance, after all," she said, a bit saddened by the thought.
Hiro shook his head.
"Like I've said a million times before, I can take care of myself," he said obstinately.
"Alright," Botan relented. "But I'll definitely come to say goodbye before you leave tomorrow morning."
Hiro's gaze flitted towards Hiei and the older demon could sense the younger one's unspoken question.
"We'll both be there," Hiei said, causing both Hiro and Botan to stare at him wide-eyed.
Hiro broke out of it first and nodded.
"Okay, well I'll see you guys tomorrow."
They watched him until he was out of sight and then Botan turned her attention to Hiei.
"That was unexpected of you," she said, her features breaking out into a grin.
"You're just a big softy on the inside, aren't you, Hiei?" she teased.
"Don't be delusional."
Botan's smile quickly fell and she propped her hands up on her sides.
"You know, I thought you'd start being a little nicer to me. Especially since you admitted that you love me and all," she teased.
"I don't recall saying that I love you," he responded, impassively.
Botan tried to recall their latest conversation but she was too flustered to function. Blood rushed over her cheeks as she looked back at Hiei and she frowned upon noticing the amusement that was reflected in his eyes; he had been teasing her.
"That wasn't a very nice thing to do," she huffed.
He pulled her against him and smirked.
"I've told you countless times before: I'm not a nice person," he insisted.
"Hm, we'll have to do something about that attitude of yours," she whispered.
"You've got all night to try," Hiei offered before capturing her mouth with his.
The next morning everyone had decided to meet up in the hotel lobby. The members of Team Urameshi were already packed and waiting for the girls to join them.
"Okay, something is going on with shorty!" Kuwabara bellowed.
"Pipe down… I've got a massive hangover and I'm not in the mood for you or your spiritually aware psychotic readings," Yusuke groaned, downing the rest of his coffee in one swift motion.
"It's psychic and that's beside the point! There is definitely something going on here!" Kuwabara persisted.
"What are you talking about?" Hiei asked irritably.
"I don't know, but something about you is different! Don't you think so, Urameshi?"
Yusuke shrugged as he looked Hiei over with a critical eye.
"Seems like the same pyromaniac we all know and love to me."
"You're being paranoid, fool. Nothing has changed," Hiei insisted.
"Not even with Botan?" Kurama interrupted.
Hiei remained quiet and Yusuke's eyes widened.
The girls chose to make their entrance at that moment.
"You're all chipper and smiley – well more so than usual. Something's gotta be up with you, Bo," Shizuru said.
Botan looked over at Hiei and smiled and Shizuru looked between the two of them.
"Did you two finally work things out?" Keiko asked incredulously.
It was Yusuke's turn to look between the two as the girls made their way over.
"Don't tell me you two…" Yusuke trailed off, his eyes darting back and forth between the ferry-girl and fire-demon.
The others turned to Botan for confirmation and the ferry-girl smiled sweetly.
"I don't know why you're all looking over at me," she said, putting on her kitty-face.
"Because, you're our resident blabbermouth," Yusuke revealed.
"Because you can't keep a secret," Kuwabara noted.
"Because you crack easily under pressure," Kurama muttered.
Botan's eyes narrowed in annoyance and she crossed her arms.
"Well, I'll have you know this resident blabbermouth is out of commission! You won't hear a word from me! No sir, not even a peep—"
"It's true. We are together now," Hiei interrupted calmly.
All eyes turned to Hiei and he stared back at them, unfazed.
"Hiei?" Botan began.
"They would have found out eventually," he reasoned.
A smile broke out on Botan's face. She knew Hiei wasn't one for big declarations of love or romantic gestures but she didn't need any of that. He was truthful and upfront and he didn't care about what anyone else thought about their relationship. That was enough for her.
"Well…" Yusuke began, scratching his head. "If this had happened before the tournament I'd be shocked, but I did catch you two getting hot and heavy in the forest that one time, so I can't say I didn't see it coming."
"We weren't doing anything!" Botan objected.
"That's not what it looked like to me," Yusuke teased.
Botan summoned her oar and brandished it at the detective menacingly, ready to strike him down, when Kurama's voice interrupted.
"Isn't it about time for you to see Hiro off?" he asked smoothly.
The oar disappeared and Botan checked her watch.
"Oh, you're absolutely right! We should hurry, or we might miss him!" Botan exclaimed.
"There's your boat," Botan said sadly as it pulled up near the dock.
Hiro looked over to the boat and noticed other demons starting to board.
"I guess that's my cue."
Botan dropped down to her knees and hugged him fiercely.
"I'll miss you, Hiro!"
He tensed in her arms, still not used to receiving contact from someone other than his mother and slowly relaxed into her embrace.
"I know I said I didn't need it," he began quietly. "But thanks for looking out for me, anyway. And … I'll miss you too."
It was so soft that she wasn't sure if he had said it or not, but when she felt his smaller arms encircle her form and then let go, she knew that she wasn't imagining it. Botan stood up and wiped a few stray tears, her eyes glistening as she smiled down at him.
Hiro turned to Hiei slowly and unsure of himself.
"Um… well…" the boy began, scratching the back of his head.
"Remember the basics I taught you and build on those," Hiei instructed.
"I will! I'll train harder and I won't stop until I'm even stronger than you are!" Hiro promised with a grin.
"Well… I guess it's time for me to leave," Hiro said reluctantly picking up his bags and casting them a half-smile. "Goodbye."
He lifted a hand to wave at them before hurrying onto the ship. Botan saw him join up with Rinku and the others and she knew that he would be in good hands. She waved at him one last time, before the boat took off and he was gone forever.
"Thanks for coming to see him off. I'm sure he appreciated it."
"I'm just glad to get rid of the kid."
"He grew on you and you know it."
"Like a thorn in my side."
She smiled knowingly as they made their trek back to the others.
"Believe it or not, I'm actually gonna miss this place," Yusuke revealed.
"It seems like we've been here for years," Kuwabara added.
The stood on a hill and stared out into the distance silently for a while. They would all be returning to normalcy and this island would be just another memory in their past.
"Back to skipping detentions," Yusuke said with a smirk.
"Video games," Kuwabara smiled.
"My human mother," Kurama said warmly.
"Various crimes…" Hiei finished.
"I'm sure Botan wouldn't be too thrilled with that one, Hiei," Yusuke admonished before his grin turned smug. "Unless, that is, you want to be caught by her. Play a few kinky rounds of criminal versus the spirit detective's assistant with the girlfriend, huh?"
G-girlfriend?" Botan spluttered, having previously given zero thought to what she could classify her relationship with Hiei as. She supposed it was the most logical title, but it sounded so trivial after everything they had been through.
"Is something wrong? I mean… you two are together, aren't you?" Keiko asked.
"We are, but it just sounds strange to refer to us as boyfriend and girlfriend!" she admitted openly, before covering her mouth with her hand. "Not that the idea is a necessarily bad one! I didn't mean that you wouldn't be good boyfriend material or anything, in fact I'm sure you are the best boyfriend in the world, I just—"
"I have the feeling we had this conversation already," Kurama noted.
Hiei nodded in agreement. It was then that Botan realized that they did. At the end of the first round of the tournament, she said something about Hiei supposedly being good boyfriend material in attempts to cover up the fact that she thought the idea of them as a couple was ludicrous. And yet here they were, at the tournament's end, closer than they ever thought possible.
They boarded the ferry and gave the island one final look as the ferry took off. As the island became smaller and smaller, it would soon become nothing but one of the many memories they held in their hearts.
Yusuke would remember it as the place where he lost his mentor and found the inner strength to defeat one of his greatest rivals.
Kuwabara would remember it as the place where he reunited with Yukina and built on their love to make him stronger.
Kurama would remember it as the place where he regained the past he thought he left behind.
Hiei would remember it as the place where he learned that letting others in wasn't necessarily a weakness; whether it was the dragon, his friends, or Botan, they all managed to make him stronger.
Botan would remember it as the place where she learned to hold fast to her values and cling to the foolish desires of her heart – because it was a combination of the two that got her through this ordeal and led her to Hiei.
Koenma would remember it as the place where he put his life on the line to support his team and friends.
Yukina would remember it as the first step in breaking away from the ice village and their customs.
Shizuru and Keiko would remember it as the place where they opened themselves up to a whole other world.
And Genkai would remember it as the place where she could finally put her life-long struggle with Toguro to rest.
Although the past week was a trying one, it was necessary for each of them and they all gained something in one way or another. She looked over at Hiei and smiled. They came separately and left as a pair; stronger and surer than ever. They were everything the other needed all along. He completed her, more than anyone else ever could, and that was more than enough for her.
Woo, I can't believe it's over! This chapter went through many, many, edits and I wasn't quite sure how to end it. It's never easy ending anything, but this was especially hard for me because More Than Anyone Else was one of my favorite stories. I started it thinking it would probably be my last fanfiction ever, but the more I wrote, the more I wanted to continue writing. I also started this story thinking that the HxB fandom was long gone, but to my surprise, the fandom is still going strong. So much so that More Than Anyone Else has become my most popular story!
All that's left to say now is thank you! Thanks for sticking by this story, thanks for keeping up with it, and thanks for seeing it through til the end. I try my best to reply to every reviewer, but if you're not logged in, anonymous, or I may have just forgotten you: Thank you SO much!
I hope you guys enjoyed this last chapter and I hope to see you all in the next fic!