Okay so first off: yup, this is the incidents of last chapter from Botan's perspective, just like I said. =D I couldn't not write this, my head was/is so full of ideas. So yeah, her part is about six pages longer than Hiei's side of things. What can I say, she's a lot more talkative. X3

But ZOMG this chapter was a total bitch to write. DX I don't really even know why. I mean, whenever I tapped into my inner Botan, things went amazingly well, I was a writing MACHINE. But it was like I had to catch those times quick, and if I didn't start getting things down on paper IMMEDIATELY – oh, too bad, gotta wait til the next time the feeling comes around. Since I'm a busy person, this happened many times. 3X I realize that's how inspiration works and all that, but that wasn't the problem. I knew what I wanted to happen, how she was going to think, etc. But it didn't always come down right. Botan and I just weren't on the same wavelength, dude! I finally ended up having two Word windows open, the one I'd been writing in and a fresh one, side by side, and retyped/redid/edited the whole thing. And now it is so much better. Despite all that, I really do love writing for Botan. XD

ANYWAYS. This chapter is dedicated to four people: my two reviewers and my two favorite-…ers. X3 Elcarim-Soberian-1222 and Shyaway95, it makes me sooooo happy that you liked my story enough to add to your favorites, you don't even know. =)

To Purple: Incredible? That's quite a compliment, I'm glad you liked it! =) Thanks for taking the time to write me, it is GREATLY appreciated!

To ReaperDemon: And even more 'incredibles,' wow! I'm super-happy I pleased such a fan of the pairing! =D Dude dooon't even worry about it, I don't get all crazy about people not liking my ship. =3 Unfortunately mine isn't that common. D= And I have no problem whatsoever with seeing them paired off with someone else – well, obviously. XD I really do love the pairing, I think it has a TON of potential, and is ADORABLE when done right – but that's the thing. In my opinion, the pairing is definitely plausible, but it would take them quite a while to the point where they would even realistically think about each other that way, which is why my story is cruising along at this pace. /lovesdiscussingthesethings

ANYWAYS EVERYBODY READ THE NOTE AT THE END WHEN YOU'RE DONE, I NEED YOUR THOUGHTS. HOPE YOU ALL ENJOY!

Disclaimer: I don't own Yu Yu Hakusho!


Botan wasn't quite sure when Hiei had disappeared. It seemed like it had only been one second, two at most, since she'd last looked over to the doorway on the far end of the room where he'd been lurking for the better part of an hour – but in reality she knew it must have been at least twenty minutes. After all, the last time she'd glanced his way had been just before soundly defeating Kuwabara in three rounds of Street Fighter.

He was mourning his losses now as she turned away from the machine, heading towards the hall just beyond Hiei's doorway, and barely made it two steps when Yusuke's voice stopped her in her tracks. "Hey, Botan, I thought I played winner! You do know that's how a tournament works, right?"

Half a second passed until she flashed a grin over her shoulder at the two boys standing near the arcade game, both watching her expectantly. Kuwabara looked no different than usual, but Yusuke had his hands planted on his hips in a way that struck her as particularly girly; she stowed the information away to tease him about later. Letting out a laugh that might have been a bit too loud, the ferry girl rushed through an airy excuse she hadn't really taken the time to plan. "Dreadfully sorry, Yusuke, but I just remembered something absolutely urgent I have to take care of, Reikai business, you know how it is. Why don't you play Kuwabara instead?"

Without waiting for an answer, Botan turned and dashed out of the room to the sound of the former spirit detective calling after her. "You're supposed to be on vacation! Besides, I can't play Kuwabara, he's the loser!"

"Just because I lost a few times doesn't mean I can't still take you down, Urameshi!"

"Yeah, yeah, come back when you stop losing to girls."

"What was that?"

"Don't get your panties in a bunch, ladies. I'll play you, dimwit."

"Just bring it on, Grandma!"

Their argument carried through the air until she'd rounded a corner wherein it became mostly unintelligible, and here she stopped to gather her thoughts. She'd just acted primarily without thinking, but now she didn't know what she was doing.

Well, alright, she admitted to herself, she knew exactly what she was doing – or trying to do, anyway. What she didn't know what how to go about it. And 'it,' of course, was Hiei. How did one go about anything with him? Botan drew her lower lip between her teeth, chewing on it nervously. What she should do was confront him the same way she would confront anyone else, but she was unsure how successful such an approach would be – and past that, she didn't want to chance alienating him any further.

Not that this wasn't entirely his fault to begin with. Frustration pulsed through her, and she resisted the highly immature urge to kick the nearby wall. It was always this way with him; she fluctuated between insecurity and exasperation so fast it sometimes made her head spin, increasingly so now that she'd finally decided to do something about it. She didn't like feeling either of those things, especially with someone who was supposed to be on their side.

It wasn't anything she'd had to think about in quite a long while – fifteen months, to be precise – but the instant she saw him, consequently trying and failing to engage him in friendly conversation, it was as if no time had passed at all. He was the same moody little punk. She knew that was an oversimplification, and that Hiei would be less than pleased to hear himself described as such, but she'd come to the conclusion that she didn't care at all. If he was going to act that way, he deserved to be called names!

But she did care, of course. They'd never been close by any definition of the term, but she still felt a certain connection with him just as she did with everyone else: being on the same team, working together for so long. And she was well aware that he wasn't the cold, heartless demon that his usual attitude suggested. He wasn't secretly a big cuddly teddy bear or anything like that either, she knew; no one in their right mind could possibly claim such a thing. Though the visual was rather amusing.

Still, he did have a heart buried in there, Botan had seen evidence of it on more than one occasion; that was what made this situation all the more frustrating. None of it was ever directed towards her. Wording things like that, it all sounded incredibly selfish, and for a moment the ferry girl was ashamed. But…but for goodness' sake, he acknowledged Kuwabara more than he'd ever done for her, and everyone knew what that relationship was like.

Did he really hate her so much…? This wasn't the first time she'd worried over the possibility, and looking over the facts it certainly seemed like a valid one. She wasn't stupid, she knew she got on his nerves – but so did everyone else, Yukina being the sole exception. Did that mean she was somehow worse?

It didn't matter. None of it mattered! Botan slapped herself lightly on both cheeks a few times for motivation, then started moving again. If there was one thing the reaper prided herself on – besides ferrying souls excellently, though that went without saying – it was her ability to maintain and nurture her friendships. And she was determined to do so for this one…even if it might have been just one-sided.

A few paces later she stopped again, realizing she had no idea where she was going. There was no way of knowing just where the Jaganshi had run off to, especially when he had potentially twenty minutes on her. Maybe he'd gone outside. Maybe he'd left the grounds altogether. Maybe he'd fled Ningenkai completely; it certainly wasn't his favorite place to be. Frankly, she was rather shocked he'd still been here at all.

No one had imagined it would be very difficult to get him to show up in the first place – Kurama did have a way with the stubborn demon – what astounded them was the fact that he hadn't taken off once he'd realized the true nature of this little shindig. So it was assumed (but never asked) that there had to be an underlying reason for him to stay.

But perhaps in the end, he had changed his mind, decided it was too much of a hassle. The combination of their fairly large group and the koorime's dislike of crowds wasn't a very good one, after all; it wasn't so far-fetched to assume that he'd finally gotten sick of it.

…except for Yukina.

No. Hiei couldn't have left. Regardless of whatever reasons he had for keeping his identity a secret, it was clear to her that he liked to be with his sister. And the girl in question had been overjoyed at his return, even though he'd brought with him no fresh news from the supposed "search" for her brother. Looking at it that way, he wouldn't leave. Botan was sure of it.

Back to business, then.

…at least he actually talked to Yukina. It was almost surprising, because he couldn't even move his mouth when she tried to speak with him, the death deity thought childishly. Not five minutes had passed and her attitude had already made a reappearance.

Okay, so maybe that wasn't a very fair thought. She almost felt bad for thinking it now. It was his sister, after all, his once long-lost sister.

Only it wasn't just the ice maiden. For the past three days, practically since they'd all arrived here, Botan had been keeping a particularly close eye on the things that Hiei did – at least, when it didn't seem too suspicious of her – and now she was absolutely certain of herself. In all that time, Hiei had taken the opportunity to speak to every single person staying in this temple at least once. Everyone – except for her. Never her.

It wasn't an exaggeration. He talked to Kurama, of course, that was no surprise; Botan thought that the kitsune was probably the person who knew the most about Hiei in the whole world. If there was anyone the koorime would call a best friend, and if he was actually the kind of person who used phrases like 'best friend,' Kurama would most definitely earn the title. And obviously, Yukina didn't need to be factored in.

But. But it wasn't just them. From Yusuke to Shizuru, the fire demon had come up with something to say to every last one of them whose name wasn't Botan. Heavens, he'd spoken to Koenma, who had just come by to visit for the very first time yesterday! The man had been around for just four hours, and yet he'd gotten four words! True, those words had been "mind your own business," but that wasn't the point! They were still words! She only wished she could be so lucky!

It was rather pitiful, she recognized, anger deflating. She was rather pitiful. During their stay here, all she'd ever received from the fire demon for her endeavors were those ridiculous grunts of his – grunts! – and even those were used sparingly. Did it really mirror how he felt about her? Did he think she was barely worth the effort of a single noise, let alone speech? Hn. Hn. She softly mocked the effect out loud to herself a few times, deepening her voice as far as it could go, then put her foot down – literally and metaphorically.

Time to stop feeling sorry for myself. At last, the bluenette pushed herself off of the wall she'd taken to reclining against amidst her ponderings, then began moving down the hallway at a steady clip. Standing here all day wouldn't accomplish anything, and she already knew what she had to do; it was purely an issue of doing it. No matter what.

As she paced the halls, checking every room she passed, Botan thought once again on how relieved she was that Kurama wasn't around to catch her doing this, having accompanied Yukina and Keiko to the grocery store. She'd been invited to come along, but had declined, seizing onto the chance of greater stealth when there were fewer people around. Had he still been here, the redhead surely would have realized her intentions immediately, even if he wasn't aware of the motives behind them – something she was afraid he would feel the need to discuss. She was already a little paranoid that he might have noticed her increased awareness of Hiei, and didn't want to know if the feeling was founded.

The ferry girl wasn't really sure why she felt the need to sneak around so much, other than…well, she had a feeling that the Jaganshi would be even less receptive than he was already prone to being if everyone and their sister knew what she was up to. This was just between the two of them, anyways – privacy was unquestionably necessary. And so, despite how desperately appreciated his advice would have been, telling Kurama was not an option.

Another empty room. The death deity frowned. That was at least the tenth or eleventh room now, and each one had been just as deserted as the last. What made her think he had remained inside, anyway? Would it be better to move to the grounds? For all she knew, he could be sitting in a tree somewhere on the outskirts of the sprawling property. For that matter, how could she be so sure that he would let himself be found? If he wanted to, he could avoid her endlessly; she certainly didn't have the perception to –

Wait.

The reaper paused, a bit belatedly, then slowly backpedaled. This door. This door was closed, when every other door she'd come across had been wide open. It didn't necessarily mean he was inside, though. Really, the room could have been anything. It could have been Genkai's room. It could have been a meditation room. It could have been the restroom, could have been filled with some type of delicate equipment that under no circumstances could be disturbed – oh, honestly, if she was playing the 'could-have-been' game, it "could have been" stuffed to the brim with pancakes and rainbow ponies. There was only one way to find out.

Botan opened the door.

He was inside.

She froze.

Suddenly she realized she hadn't thought this through at all. She had nothing prepared. No miraculous speech was coming to mind that perfectly explained everything she wanted to say and made Hiei understand, leaving him no choice but to yield to her brilliant logic. Then he would apologize for being an insensitive, grunting jerk in that roundabout way of his and things would be just fine, sunshine and daisies and –

Oh, get a hold of yourself, Botan!

She snapped out of it. Hiei hadn't moved at all since her appearance, but of course he knew she was there; she wasn't foolish enough to think otherwise. All it meant was that now she couldn't run away, even if she wanted to. And…she didn't want to! She was here on a mission! She had something to say!

Nodding to herself, clinging to that mantra, the bluenette strode across the room with purpose, but her steps faltered to a nervous little shuffle before she'd even reached the koorime. By the time she'd stopped an arm's length away from him – perched in the window, naturally – all of the uncertainty she'd ever felt about this situation had gathered in the pit of her stomach. Unconsciously, her hands sought each other out, and she clenched them tightly, almost painfully, together. Her entire frame was taut with apprehension.

Several silent seconds ticked by as she watched him, stared at his closed eyes, waiting, waiting…

It didn't take her long to grasp that waiting would get her nowhere; if she did nothing but stand here, he was never going to acknowledge her presence. Coming to this understanding awakened just enough indignation that she managed to find her voice – however frustratingly quiet it was – but what spilled out hadn't been her intended opening statement.

"Why do you hate me?"

Yet there it was anyway, too late to take back. The million-dollar question. The one that every other bit of worry ultimately stemmed from, something she'd planned to ask later in the envisioned conversation – not so soon, not so bluntly. No sense crying over spilled milk, she supposed, though her suddenly racing heart told a different story.

When he opened his eyes (finally) to look at her, she couldn't restrain an involuntary flinch, and immediately chastised herself for the action. For heaven's sake, he's not going to bite your head off. But the thought was a little bit difficult to believe, since that risk was exactly what concerned her – figuratively, of course. She studied his expression, searching for anything that might give her even the smallest idea as to what he was thinking, but of course it was useless. To an untrained eye, Hiei looked wholly unaffected.

Seconds dragged on into minutes, and Botan was abruptly seized by the notion that he simply wasn't planning to reply. Such inaction would undeniably hold true to the way he'd received her on this trip so far – which was to say, not at all – and the fire demon was nothing if not consistent. And, if anything, not answering was an answer in and of itself. Because surely even Hiei would move to deny an accusation like that…unless it was accurate.

Fear blossomed rapidly at the potential validation of her long-held theory, one that she didn't want to be true. She wished he would just answer her, really answer her, and not leave her with this depressing conclusion. No, she wouldn't let him! A strong urging word or three rested on the tip of her tongue, only her tongue had gotten twisted and refused to form them. Her resolve was still burning along steadily inside of her, but the confidence to act upon it decisively had dwindled away in the face of his cool indifference.

Just when she felt at her absolute lowest, the lowest of the low, lower than the worms, Hiei decided to put forth his input – just two words, two inflectionless words, the first two words he'd spoken to her in over a year, but the best two words he'd spoken to her since they'd met.

"I don't."

Botan couldn't help but snap to attention, losing some of her rigidity as she became more alert. Tilting her head, the shinigami stared at him in undisguised astonishment, even though he wasn't looking at her anymore. The long-awaited counter to all of her concerns was a bit hard to wrap her thoughts around; she didn't want him to change his mind, but she had to make sure. "You…don't?"

"No. I don't." Now he sounded annoyed, but coming from him it was so common that she wasn't fazed in the slightest; what mattered was the confirmation that came with it. The death deity wanted to jump up and down a little, except it wouldn't be very becoming in the middle of such a serious conversation, and she wasn't done with him yet. Staying in his good favor (well, good by Hiei standards) was crucial.

Her next question slipped past her lips almost without consent, but she wouldn't lie and say that she wasn't interested, probably embarrassingly so, in hearing the answer.

"…why?"

The positive turn things were taking hadn't quite sunk in, but it was coming along; she felt the beginnings of a smile curving her lips, energy developing even further into an urge to dance around the room in celebration over something that, with anyone else, would have been seen as a minor achievement. But with Hiei, not being hated looked considerably more impressive.

Until he shot all of her hopes back down.

"Hating you would require too much effort. A waste of my time and energy."

The smile she'd only just been wearing flickered, then faded, dragging downwards instead – and taking her enthusiasm with it. Her fingers, dangling by her sides, flexed outwards for an instant before curling around the material of her kimono as she processed his words.

Just as she'd thought…in a way. The details were somewhat different, but it all equaled the same thing. So he didn't hate her. He just couldn't be bothered to care about her in any manner whatsoever. Somehow, the reality had turned out to be worse than anything she'd ever imagined.

Too much effort. A waste. Hadn't she thought something so very similar, not fifteen minutes ago in hallway? All of a sudden, Botan hated being right, hated that she was ever right. What was she supposed to say to that? What could he possibly expect her to say to that? A slap to the face would have been kinder than that, and still he wasn't even looking at her.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, the reaper knew that she shouldn't be just upset, she should be furious with him, but she couldn't summon it up. She was still too stunned, still too hurt, and the anger was buried beneath all that, not ready to emerge. Even in her most dejected moments of picturing this as the outcome, she hadn't believed it would feel quite this terrible. But…her friends meant everything. And he was her friend.

She had to say something. How long had she been standing here now, miserable? More than a few seconds. More than a few minutes, even. She still had to stay something. Despite how utterly final those words had sounded, there had to be a way to redeem the situation, if only she could come up with an appropriate response.

Except she couldn't. Her normally buzzing mind was at a standstill. Eventually, she used what little her thoughts seemed capable of supplying, words that were entirely inconsequential, just to break the unbearable silence and maybe give her brain a kick-start.

"Oh, I see…"

The ferry girl hadn't fully expected him to reply – so when he did so without delay, and in such a biting tone to boot, it was doubly surprising. With a jerk, her slightly bowed head rose back up, catching his eyes again at last, and she didn't know how to react. He was practically glaring at her. But what did he have to be so bothered about? He wasn't the one who'd just had a bombshell dropped on his head. Perfectly justified anger was finally starting to simmer just beneath the surface, but something was making her hesitate, holding her back from seizing onto it. What on Earth was wrong with her?

The other extreme was to dissolve into a big, blubbering mess, and that was so far out of the question it wasn't even on the test. It left the shinigami no choice but to simply put on her best face and venture forward, the only safe option. Unfortunately, the smile she offered wound up rather lacking, but at least she sounded convincingly upbeat. Or so she'd thought. "Why, Hiei, I'm sure I don't know what you're t-"

"I don't like being lied to." Abruptly his unwavering stare had gone from irritable to downright cross, and for a moment Botan wondered why she'd tried that. Of course Hiei would see right through her, even if she'd been putting on the best act in the world (which she hadn't), and of course he didn't have the courtesy to humor her and leave the matter alone. It had been a doomed attempt all along.

But what right did he have to call her out, anyway?

That simmering anger was beginning to bubble now, but still it wouldn't rise. He was the one responsible for all of this. He was the one who'd essentially told her that she wasn't worth his time, that dealing with her was a waste, and then he had the gall to reprimand her for lying? Why did he even want to know any of this if she was so unimportant?

It wasn't fair. Fixing their relationship was all she'd wanted, was it really so awful to want? Botan didn't think so. There just had to be a way. She thought hard, optimism inexplicably lifting its head once more despite the weight pressing down on her. Maybe the fact that he was even interested in her problem was a sign that he wasn't as apathetic as he believed. Or – maybe…it just meant that he was aiming to shatter any remaining illusions she had about the possibility of friendship.

She was fluctuating again. Even now, under these circumstances, he couldn't just let her settle on one feeling for him at any given time, couldn't make things simple. Then it hit her.

The reason behind her inability to express herself, to think clearly.

Why she was taking every single blow so hard, rather than in stride or at least with some perspective.

When was the last time she had been rejected so thoroughly? Never, she realized. Never before had she been forced to reevaluate precisely where she stood with someone time and again, to second-guess her own thoughts and actions to this extreme. Due to her welcoming personality and sunny disposition, making friends of all kinds came easily to her, and – as embarrassingly self-centered as it sounded – she'd never expected a situation to arise where that wouldn't be the case. Hiei was constantly breaking the rules.

It certainly wasn't as though she didn't take her friendships seriously, or took any of them for granted. She worked hard, and really did pride herself on keeping them up. Naturally, times still arose when someone would get upset, and arguments would occur; it happened in all friendships. But a compromise or solution was always reached eventually, and things went back to normal. And that was the kicker.

Hiei was the first person she'd ever been honestly afraid of losing. With him, there was no assurance that no matter how badly they fought, at the end of the day he would still be around. It was why she was finding it so difficult to cut loose and yell at him for all things she wanted to. Because what if he just left? What if he decided he'd had enough and just left? No close bond had yet been forged between the two of them to let her know that he would come back, that they would be okay – and knowing how he could be, if things went sour now there was a very good chance that she might never see him again.

That it bothered her quite this much, the notion of the koorime being gone, actually came as a surprise to the ferry girl. Truthfully, in spite of the kinship she felt with him for their shared experiences and the good things he'd done, they didn't know each other all that well. But the feeling was there regardless, and dwelling on it served no purpose; all that mattered was that it was.

Understanding and coming to grips with her own behavior helped immensely, and Botan could feel a bit of the old confidence returning. Things had to get down and dirty before they could get better. There was nothing for it but to take the leap. No more beating around the bush. She held his gaze more or less evenly as she spoke.

"It's just…I suppose I thought that by now you might think more of me. After all this time, everything we've all been through together, I'd hoped your opinion of me would have improved, even a little bit."

Putting conviction back into her words took a few hesitant moments, but halfway through she was picking up steam. Botan paused for an instant after that first thought, a simple idea forming to punctuate her forthcoming statement. The Jaganshi either hadn't noticed or didn't dwell on the momentary absence of speech, so she carried on quickly, executing her plan of attack just seconds later.

It paid off.

"I mean, I try, I really do! I do my very best to make things better between us, but it doesn't work if you don't try as w- AH-HA!" As she talked, the ferry girl had moved to sit beside her companion on the windowsill without missing a beat, eyes trained on his face, his figure – and there it was. Exactly what she'd been looking for: muscles suddenly tightening. She had to grin, a real one this time, at the thrill of victory – though she couldn't deny the sense of smugness that came along as she shoved her index finger towards him. "Like that! Right there! You see? You tensed up the very second I sat beside you! The second! It's always something! Why is that?"

But she couldn't allow him time to answer, even as she heard his intake of breath for the start of one – doing so could give him the opportunity to catch on to what she'd done, and more importantly she could lose her momentum, the righteous anger that had made its way up at long last. Her voice rose, just a little.

"Really, Hiei, we've known each other for five years, I expected our relationship to be stronger by now – yes, I know how hard it is for you to let people in, don't give me that look" – the minute shift of his eyebrows had caught her attention (and why wouldn't it? He so rarely changed his expression, the tiniest moved seemed like a big red flashing light) and she knew exactly what it meant – "– but I'm the one you shut out the most, the only one you completely shut out, truly! Three days we've been here, and I don't think you've spoken one word to me until now!"

Though she wasn't clear on the details of his past, what she did know made it obvious that he hadn't had it easy. A past like that left marks in more ways than one; he wasn't just a disagreeable loner.

But this only barely crossed her mind now; if had been a spur-of-the-moment exclamation. Right now, she was too busy working herself up, fists slamming with barely enough restraint into her lap when it was really the fire demon to her left she wanted to hit, just once. Not a very grown-up urge, but her frustration had been around since long before this vacation, which so far had only served to amplify it. Letting go like this was almost therapeutic, despite the possible ramifications. "Hn. That's all you've said to me, did you know that? And that's not even saying anything! That's a noise! A sound! A…a grunt! Hn!"

"Hiei! Are you even listening to me!" He blinked once, and something about the way his gaze landed on her afterwards felt like proof of her suspicion. The shinigami drew in a deep, deep breath, but instead of continuing to rant as she'd originally intended, redirected the air into an overdramatic exhalation. All at once it didn't matter anymore. Her emotions had come full circle; now that she'd had a chance to chew him out, express what she'd needed to, the anger was slowly dissipating, leaving in its wake only her initial desire to repair something that may have never been whole in the first place.

But then, it had never been about repair, had it?

They were building from the ground up.

The death deity looked away from him, crossing her arms, and said her final piece. "Well, what it all comes down to is…really wishing I could change your mind about me. I do think of you as my friend, you know, even if you don't think the same. But I wish you would."

There. Wearing a smile several times more heartfelt than either that had come before it, Botan glanced back at him, ready if still a little afraid to hear what he thought, willing to give him all the time in the world if it meant a better answer – in spite of her growing restlessness.

And it was a good thing, too: while there was little else she could glean from him, she got a certain sense that the fire demon wasn't simply sitting there and ignoring her. He was going to answer, she was positive. Until then, her only course of action was to keep up what she was already doing – being patient and hoping that this would be enough.

The fact that he was apparently thinking so deeply on his response just had to be a good thing, right? Otherwise he wouldn't waste his time. Right? The bluenette wanted to believe that whole-heartedly, but couldn't quite trust it. This revelation was fairly startling; in this capacity, Botan didn't trust Hiei – couldn't trust him, until she'd been given reason to change her mind. Trust was an important, delicate thing, she was well aware – but the majority of the time, she still handed it out like candy. And in many other areas, she did trust the koorime. Just not this one. She didn't like doubting him, didn't like doubting the people around her in general, but it was what it was.

And it wasn't that she had no secrets, or felt perfectly secure in sharing every inch of her heart and mind with just anyone – as a matter of fact, she still hadn't found a single person that she felt free to divulge absolutely everything to. But that didn't mean that she wasn't pretty darn open about a lot of things to a lot of people, or that she thought no one would be willing to listen if she dug ultra-deep.

But she tried to hold onto that feeling, that discomfort with exposing the most intimate parts of herself, as a reference for how Hiei had to feel most of the time, for most things, with most of the people he knew. And it made her sad for him. Maybe it sounded silly, but she wanted to be there for him, even if he already had Kurama to fill that role – and possibly Mukuro too, if what the kitsune seemed to believe was correct, which it usually was. But one more person couldn't hurt, could it? It could only be a good thing for him. If she was being too pushy…

…Botan decided she didn't care.

A subtle movement drew her eyes back to the fire demon in question just in time for his first thought, and she braced herself. "You're an idiot."

"Wh-what?" The mortifying screech was out before she could even begin to put a stop to it, and she stared at him wide-eyed. No one could possibly argue that it was unusual for him to insult her, but here and now it was the last thing she'd expected. She was too thrown to be affronted, and he left no moment for the feeling to develop.

"I treat you no differently than I treat any of the others. If you think otherwise, you're a fool. If I ever single you out, it is only because you're being especially foolish. The same can be said for any of the morons here that I choose to associate with."

His tone, anything but warm and inviting, fell on deaf ears in light of what he was using it to convey; with every deceptively harsh-sounding word in what was a veritable speech for him, the bluenette could feel her spirits lifting. It was kindness cloaked in callousness, the only type of kindness she'd ever known him to show – and the very same that he'd used earlier. How could she have overlooked it?

"As I said before, I don't hate you. Nor do I dislike you."

This was the first time she'd heard him so candid, though it had brought on a glare that he was now sweeping the room with – over anything but her. There hadn't been any cause for concern at all. He "didn't dislike" her. She beamed. What he'd said before really had just been another example of a side that he so rarely revealed, if perhaps expressed in a way that lacked in any tact or sense of manners whatsoever. But it was nothing unforgivable.

"So…does that make us friends, then?" She knew her unmasked delight would bother him, but she couldn't contain it – and was proven to be absolutely right. His glare seemed to darken, even if he still refused to look at her. What he said in return was positively icy.

"Hn. Think what you want."

His aura, his entire being had begun radiating hostility, but for once Botan could read him perfectly: the standoffish, cross old boy had gone and embarrassed himself, and now he was raising his hackles. Out of nowhere, she was struck with the thought that Hiei reminded her of a cat; the comparison was unbelievably fitting. He certainly had the disdain down pat, the sense of entitlement and superiority. He spent a good deal of time in trees and other high places. He even owned a pair of sharp, angled eyes. The not-so-grim reaper couldn't stifle the laughter that rose up in her throat as she got to her feet, claiming her initial spot right in front of him – though the circumstances of then versus now were a world away.

The sense of relief, of utter joy that things had all worked out for the best was simply too much to keep to herself; the death deity released another laugh. "You silly thing, you!"

She moved to throw her arms around the little darling in a moment of unthinking affection; it was just as she was about to capture his frame and pull it against hers that he turned his head, fixing her with a look that promised swift retribution if she continued. And she remembered anew that he wasn't really all that cuddly. Tittering altogether too loudly, the ferry girl switched the gesture to a few hasty shoulder pats in an unconvincing attempt to pretend it had been her true goal all along before drawing back up.

Her smile had yet to dim in the slightest, and showed no signs of doing so anytime soon. Because this was just Hiei. The unfriendly look on his face, the moodiness, the low tolerance for anything that annoyed him – all of it was so typically Hiei that it made her want to hug him all over again. But she didn't, of course; it was almost, but not quite worth whatever punishment he would dish out. And she had no doubts that he would dish one out.

Still, none of this stopped her from winking at him in an extremely over-exaggerated fashion, nor from slapping an endearment onto her parting words while she stepped back. "Well, I'll see you later then, partner" She wouldn't have minded sticking around a while longer now that they were on good terms, but with Hiei, taking things one step at a time seemed liked the best idea. Her mind was already churning for how best to bring the next step about in the coming days.

However, she'd hardly had the chance to turn around before the koorime spoke up behind her. "Wait."

Immediately Botan faced him again, wondering what more he'd come up with to say. "What is it?"

"If you tell anyone about this conversation…" The undercurrent of a threat ran evidently through the words, one that the shinigami only vaguely identified; she stopped him short as soon as she'd gathered on the nature of his warning by nodding in agreement, changing it to a shake of the head seconds later when she realized it would be more appropriate. She'd expected something like this, after all – had already been planning on it – and took no offense.

"Oh, of course not, I would never! I swear to you, nothing will go beyond this room." Just for good measure, the reaper turned an invisible key against her mouth and tossed it over her shoulder, so he could rest extra-assured.

Things would be easier for him like this, and she was a fan of anything that didn't serve to drive him away. Another feline characteristic, it occurred to her suddenly: he was rather like a skittish cat one had to approach very carefully. If you treated it the wrong way, it would disappear. Botan resolved to never mention these private observations to him – a strong hunch told her that this was likely to be one of those things that would make him disappear. Not that she had ever intended to tell him, anyways.

The bluenette whirled about on her heel, heading towards the open door until –

"Onna."

– she spun his way once more, spontaneously singing her inquiry this time, more curious than ever. "Yes, Hiei?"

An instant's pause, if that.

"I like you better when you don't talk." Well, there was no other way to take that statement but in offense. And she did. Botan frowned, lips pursing and eyebrows drawing together disapprovingly at the taunt, taking the bait even as it dawned on her that it was bait.

In the end, the thorough scolding she gave him got her nowhere except more irritated, finishing as she stomped out of the room and away from his self-satisfied smirk with an "Honestly, sometimes you are just as impossible as Yusuke! Hmph!"

She kept up that frame of mind for several more minutes of stomping, but it didn't last long, her footsteps lightening along with her mood before she was halfway to her destination. The primarily one-sided dispute had left her mainly exasperated over anything else, because arguing with Hiei could be a lot like arguing with no one when he was feeling uncooperative – and Botan only got into her best tizzies when she could work off of her opponent's comebacks. Hiei usually operated outside of that playing field – he was fully capable of making her capital-M Mad without a single word – but right now she was feeling much too fond of him for things to devolve into that.

Once any last remnants of aggravation had faded, Botan slowed her pace and began to consider the koorime's words more seriously. They'd meant to provoke (and had succeeded), but some truth lay within them nonetheless. Hiei had to be the most uncommunicative person she'd ever met, so having long, meaningful conversations was a no-go – which was a shame, because in her experience long, meaningful conversations were the best way to build bridges between people. Except that wasn't too plausible in this case.

She hoped for him to eventually grow comfortable enough to discuss things more freely with her, but how to reach that point? He was generally uninterested in any and all of the activities that she could possibly think up for them to do together, so that wouldn't work either…

The shinigami wished once again that she could ask for Kurama's help on the matter, but that would mean explaining the situation, and that would mean breaking her promise, which she would do under no circumstances. Friendships didn't hold up very well under shattered trust.

So far her thoughts had gone around and around in circles, leading her back to exactly what she'd started with: a big fat nothing. The ferry girl lifted a fist to her mouth, gnawing on her thumbnail a bit as she debated over what to do next. All of her contemplation had brought her to a stop a few turns away from the large room where Yusuke, Kuwabara and Genkai had presumably stayed after she'd run off; 'presumably' changed into 'definitely' as the sound of the former's shouts echoed loudly down the halls moments later. She lingered where she was, not quite ready to abandon her dilemma for later.

Certainly, the fire demon wasn't unreachable; proof of that was all around her, present in the form of Yukina and Kurama – and even some of the others, like Yusuke. And what, precisely, do they do? She suddenly wondered, grasping onto the slivers of a revelation. They didn't make grand gestures. They didn't push to make things happen, or strive for anything at all. Perhaps the solution to this was less complicated than she was expecting it to be.

…perhaps…

…being there for him was as simple as just being there for him, with him…and letting things progress naturally from there. It wasn't an unreasonable idea.

She would give it a try.

Having a concept to work with was more than enough, and put a newly determined spring into her step as she headed back towards the group. A friendship wasn't worth a thing if you weren't willing to put in the necessary time and effort to make it last.

Botan was more than willing.


OMGGGGGGG DONE YAY. =D

Now, important stuff to say here, story-wise.

Obviously, I've decided to continue, but it's not just this chapter. I have a LOT of ideas for this story, tons of which I've just had to write down certain scenes from future chapters while I was in the process of writing this one so I wouldn't lose the vision, and I am loving doing this. =D

Now if you've looked at my profile, you will know I've had issues in the past with updates. )= This is mainly because I am very critical of my own work, and will scrutinize it to death, and won't want to put it up if I don't think it's good enough. But I'm working really hard already to not do that with this story. I'm also hoping to combat this problem by looking at each chapter of this as self-contained, though of course it has an advancing plot, and by not stretching one scene past a single chapter unless it really calls for it or is super-long. Like, freakishly long.

So far I'm going amazingly well though – I don't think I've ever been constantly writing so much for a story, and jumping around to different points to write scenes that won't happen for chapters, etc, etc. One thing that you guys can do to help is review; reading them over and over will kick my butt into gear, and they always make me really happy to see. =) However, although they are a goal of mine, they are not required. I will post each chapter as soon as I'm finished writing it and I have access to my laptop and my internet, regardless of reviews. But they do help, and make me feel super-good. =) And as I said last time, knowing what I'm doing wrong/right is always important!

One last thing: So far, I plan to write two chapters for each scene – one from Hiei's perspective, and one from Botan's. They might not always go in the pattern, as in H-B, H-B, H-B, because depending on how I feel I might be more inclined towards one more than the other at a given time – either that, or there may be certain things I want to reveal first/last that would only come from one of the character's side. So it might go H-B-B-H or B-H-H-B or whatever. You know? So…is it alright, doing the chapters like that? I mean, are you entertained? It's not boring reading this, knowing you've read all of the dialogue parts and such in the previous chapter? Let me know!

Well, um, that's all. o.o Please read, review and enjoy this and future chapters! =)

And, um, I'm sorry my author's notes have been so freakishly long for both of these. I'm fairly certain that this won't happen every chapter. O.O I JUST LIKE EXPLAINING THINGS OKAY.