As promised, here is the epilogue.
Botan hummed a made up tune as she looked over her mail. She was seated in the break room with Ayame, Hinageshi and Kasumi, the sounds of the other ferry-girls laughed and chattering filling her ears in a familiar and warm way. The ambassadorship had ended a month ago and all of the ferry-girls had parted ways with their respective territories on good terms. She and Hiei were also going strong, and although she hadn't seen him for the past two weeks, the fact that she had weaseled him into a taking her out on a date tonight was enough to keep her smiling brightly all day.
"Hey, look at this article," Hinageshi said, prostrating the papers in front of Botan.
Amethyst eyes gave the fine print a quick skim, before her brain processed the message. She had been so used to negative propaganda and rumors that she honestly was not expecting to see something so truthful and positive written within the pages. The author had chosen to shed light on the new and unprecedented unity between the three worlds and even gave a nod to the success of the ambassadorship.
"That's wonderful!" Botan exclaimed excitedly.
Of course, this was just the beginning. Maintaining this peace would be a job in and of itself, but they were all off to a great start.
"Yes, I feel like I really made a difference," Kasumi added.
Hinageshi's shoulders slumped slightly, a frown marring her features.
"I wish I got to visit another territory, too," she lamented.
"We all played a part in the peace that we are experiencing today. Don't discount the hard work and effort you put it in as well," Ayame instructed.
"Ayame's right. You did your fair share of work here in the Spirit World and you should be proud of that," Kasumi encouraged with a pat on her back.
Hinageshi's grin returned, navy blue eyes twinkling once more.
"I guess that's true."
Botan smiled as she shuffled through newsletters, magazines and other items. She paused at a small envelope addressed to her in neat handwriting. Her eyes became alight with joy when she realized exactly what it was and she stood up with a triumphant grin.
"Botan?" Kasumi started, but Botan was already bounding out of the room in her excitement.
"Took you long enough, Yusuke!" she cheered to herself as she sped past ogres, ferry-girls and other spirits in the hallway. She didn't bother to knock and instead chose to barge into Koenma's office, startling the prince and his trusty ogre and causing a few documents to fall on the floor in the process.
"Sir, did you hear the news?" she inquired excitedly.
"No, what's wrong?" Koenma questioned, immediately bracing himself for negative news.
"Yusuke finally popped the question to Keiko! They're getting married!" Botan announced.
"That's great," George grinned.
Koenma let out a relieved laugh.
"Well, it certainly took him long enough."
"That's what I said," Botan replied, before clapping her hands together. "Oh, this is going to be so exciting!"
"I didn't take Yusuke for the wedding type, though," George said, rubbing a clawed hand at his chin thoughtfully.
"Keiko must have put him up to it," Botan mentioned. "They even sent me an invitation for Hiei as well. They must have known sending anything to him would be a futile effort."
"I didn't take Hiei for the wedding type either," George repeated.
"Well, it will take some convincing, but I'm sure he will come along," Botan guaranteed.
"Isn't that always the case with Hiei?" Koenma added, referring to the old days when they always had to rope him into attending missions.
"I suppose that's true," she smiled.
"How are things with you two, by the way?" Koenma asked. "He isn't giving you any trouble, is he?"
"Oh no, he's been the perfect gentleman," she assured. "In fact, we were supposed to meet up today. Is there anything you need me to do before I go?"
Koenma shook his head.
"No, we're all set here."
"Alright. I'll see you later Lord Koenma," she waved. "Bye George!"
George waved and Koenma nodded his assent.
Botan made a quick pitstop to her room to deposit her invitation on her dresser and then slid Hiei's in the folds of her kimono. She hummed excitedly as she made her way to a portal destined for the demon world. Navigating through the red skies was an easy feat with all of the experience she had wrapped under belt and, soon enough, she spotted Mukuro's fortress in the distance.
As she made her landing on the grassy plains just outside of the fotress, she was happy to encounter Amara.
"Hey Botan!" Amara waved.
Botan banished her oar and the two women exchanged quick hugs.
"Visiting Hiei or here for work?" Amara asked, a hand resting on her hip casually.
"Today is just a social call," she replied. "How have you all been?"
"Same old, same old," Amara waved a dismissive hand. "I'm actually getting ready for a little expedition."
"That's wonderful. I know how much you enjoy those."
"That's right. I'm supposed to meet Souta in a few minutes, though and I don't want to keep you."
"Alright, I'll see you when you return, then. We need to catch up!"
"Of course," Amara consented. "You know where to find me."
Botan watched as Amara went her way, before she started in the direction of Mukuro's throne room. It was only proper to greet her first, seeing as this was her territory.
"Knock knock," she sing-songed as she rapped her knuckles against the door.
Soon enough it was opened by two soldiers and Botan smiled cheerily.
"Hello there, Lady Mukuro!" Botan greeted.
"Botan," Mukuro responded in that drone tone of hers.
"I take it you've been well since I've last seen you?" Botan asked. "I've been keeping up on Demon World affairs and you've been making the headlines lately."
"Yes, our stronghold is growing fairly quickly," Mukuro acknowledged. "And there haven't been any territorial squabbles with Yomi or Raizen's camp."
"You look a bit disappointed by that last part," Botan pointed out.
"This peace is something that I'm not used to," she admitted. "I prefer the bloodshed."
"Oh, well, maybe you should occupy yourself with other things."
"I hope you aren't suggesting mundane and menial hobbies like knitting or crocheting."
"Knitting and crocheting can be very rewarding," Botan suggested.
"I don't intend to become domesticated in these times of peace."
"I didn't mean it like that!" she said.
"Am I correct in assuming that you are here for Hiei?" Mukuro asked, her blue eye resting on Botan questioningly.
"You know I always enjoy your company, Lady Mukuro. But, yes, I did come to relay a message to Hiei. And he promised to take me out on a date today, too!"
"You know where he is."
"That I do," she agreed. "Nice seeing you again."
Mukuro responded with a quiet hum of agreement and Botan was once again left to wander the halls in search of Hiei. There was no doubt in her mind that he was probably in the underground training room, so she moseyed down the stairs and through the hallways.
"Hey there pretty lady," Haru said as he began to stroll in step with her. "Heard you were in town and couldn't pass up the chance to see you again."
"It's so quiet without you here to make mischief with," he complained with a sigh.
"I find myself thinking back on the ambassadorship days and wishing I was still here, too."
"I guess it's true when they say that all good things must come to an end," he lamented. "So what are you up to today?"
"Hiei promised me a date today and I intend to cash in on it," she replied with an excited grin.
"Oh, any idea where you two are going?"
"Not in the slightest and I'm sure Hiei hasn't given it much thought either. We will have to decide together."
"What about you, mister? Found a sweet girl to settle down with, yet?" she asked, interested to hear his response.
"It would be unfair to the ladies of this world to take myself off of the market," Haru stated, running a hand through his orange waves of hair.
"Oh okay," he responded, chest deflating as he let out a sigh. "Honestly, I just haven't found the elusive one yet."
"You will one day, I'm sure of it."
He grinned in response, movements halting when they reached the training room door. Botan peered inside curiously and was rewarded with a view of the fire-demon. As per usual, he hadn't broken a sweat, but the recruits were looking terribly exhausted. As she watched him instruct the other soldiers, pride welled up in her heart. She never got tired of seeing him in his element. His crimson eyes were hard as he stared at the recruits and his gait was sure and steady. He exuded confidence and strength and she was glad to call him hers.
"Is it possible for him to have gotten even more handsome within the past two weeks that I haven't seen him?" Botan wondered to herself.
"I don't know, but what about me? Did I become more dashing?" Haru asked, puffing his chest out in an attempt to look more suave.
"Hm, you look about the same," she answered casually, before turning her sights back to Hiei.
Haru's shoulders slumped.
"No love for Haru," he said, clicking his tongue.
"I'm kidding, of course you look even more dashing than the last time, too."
His grin returned as he snapped his fingers.
"I knew it!"
The sound of the iron door unlocking signaled the end of the training session and the two took a step back as Hiei exited the room. His eyes cut to Haru first.
"Tell Mukuro these recruits aren't worth it," Hiei said. "Too weak."
"Got it," Haru saluted. "You two have fun."
"Bye Haru!" Botan waved.
Crimson eyes rested on her form and she nearly forgot how piercing his gaze could be.
"Hello to you too, Hiei," she greeted.
"Aren't you early?" he asked.
"Well, I couldn't wait. I have a message for you!"
"Not here," he said. "Everyone is far too nosy in this fortress."
Botan nodded in understanding as she joined Hiei's side. He was stoic and silent as they walked through the halls, but when she felt his rough hand intertwine with hers, she couldn't help the giddy feeling that had overtaken her. She was grinning from ear to ear as they walked to his room and as soon as she entered, Hiei kicked the door closed and had her pressed against the wall.
"I missed you," she said in between kisses.
Hiei did not answer, but the way his lips hungrily crashed over hers was proof enough of how much he felt her absence. His fingers worked deftly to untie her kimono, but she quickly rested her hand on top of his to halt him.
"Not so fast, mister, you promised me a full fledged date. We can't just skip to the end."
"I'm unconventional," he said, lips trailing from her mouth to the pulse point on her neck. "I'd rather do things in reverse."
Botan swallowed thickly, losing the will to protest at the feeling of his warm lips against the sensitive skin of her neckline. When she felt the introduction of his canines beginning to graze against her neck, she opened her eyes and regained her bearings.
"Wait, wait, stop," she said, pushing him away. "There was something important that I wanted to tell you!"
"What is it?" he asked, taking a step back to give her breathing room with an irritable frown.
She pulled out his invitation with a grin and handed it to him.
"Yusuke's getting married!" she declared.
Hiei looked completely and utterly unimpressed as he turned the invitation over and read its contents.
"I fail to see what that has to do with me," he said after a few moments of silence.
"Well, we obviously have to attend the ceremony!"
"You can do whatever you want. I refuse."
"Yuuto might be there. Are you sure you want me going alone?" she questioned, appealing to his jealousy.
"Are you saying you can't be trusted?" he countered.
"Then I rest my case."
"Oh come on, Hiei!" Botan urged, pouting her lips for good measure. "Don't be a spoil sport."
"I don't like celebrations."
"But Yusuke and Keiko are our friends. You can't be serious about missing their wedding!"
"The ex-detective and his woman are your friends," he corrected. "I've only just recently freed myself from the nonsense that comes with being around that group and I don't intend to return."
"How about I do something nice for you if you attend?" she bargained, a playful grin making its way onto her face.
"Your idea of something nice and my idea of something nice are two very different things, woman."
Botan placed her hands on her hips, staring at him challengingly.
"I'm well aware of that," she said. "So what do you say?"
"Hn. You have yourself a deal."
Botan was a cunning woman.
She appeared to be sunshine and rainbows; she pretended to be daft and innocent, when in fact she was anything but those innocent qualities. She knew exactly how to get what she wanted and that was the only reason why he was seated at one of the many tables set up outside of Genkai's temple, watching the boring wedding ceremony commence. His table consisted of himself, Botan, Yukina, the oaf, the fox, and the oaf's sister. Many others had attended: psychics from the human world, a small group from the Spirit World and allies from the demon world, as well as humans who were presumably Keiko's guests. Mukuro had even found it necessary to show up, and where she went, Haru followed.
Hiei crossed his arms over his chest, silver chain and hiruiseki brushing against his arm in his ministrations. He had stopped concealing it now that his secret was out in the open and Yukina, who was seated across from him, was sporting her own stone in the same fashion. Next to him sat Botan, who was proudly wearing the gold necklace he had gotten for her during the ambassadorship. She had taken to wearing it all the time now and, although he never admitted it aloud, he was pleased that she had chosen to do so.
A sniffle at his side broke him from his thoughts and he glanced at the ferry-girl, only to see that she was wiping a tear that had fallen. Hiei looked around the decorated area to see that most of the women were in similar besotted states.
"Stop crying," he ordered. "It's unbecoming."
"It's just so beautiful," she said. "I almost can't believe that Yusuke and Keiko have finally reached this point."
"You've always had a fanatical interest in the relationship between the detective and his harpy. I suppose this is the payout of all of your past voyeurisms," he reasoned mockingly.
"I'm just happy that our friends are happy!" she defended.
"Don't pretend you don't have a romantic bone in your body, I know all about the skeletons in your closet," she retorted, amethyst gaze narrowing slyly. "Or should I say the novel in your nightstand?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh come now, Hiei. I know that you have my book," she deadpanned.
His expression dropped into one of annoyance.
"Haru snooped," she amended, pointer finger raised in protest. "I was there to tell him how invasive he was being."
Hiei gave her an unconvinced look and she faltered somewhat.
"Alright, maybe we both snooped, but that doesn't change the fact that you stole my book."
"I didn't read it for my own pleasure," he claimed.
"Sure, that's why you haven't returned it yet," Botan taunted.
"I haven't returned it because I've already disposed of it," he lied.
Botan's smug look faded into one of horror.
"Hiei! That's not fair, I really wanted to finish it!"
"Would you two quit flirting? I can hardly hear the vows," Shizuru cut in.
Kurama chuckled at the exchange as Botan regarded the entire table with a sheepish smile.
"Oopsie, sorry," she apologized, returning her gaze to the couple of interest.
Hiei rolled his eyes and continued ignoring everyone. The ceremony did not last long, and Hiei supposed that Yusuke had a hand in that. After dinner and a large, ornate cake, the guests began to mingle throughout the expanse of Genkai's territory. Hiei had chosen to remain in a secluded corner where he would not have to make small chat with anyone, i.e. Shuichi, who for some reason, was invited. He scanned the crowd for Botan, ruby eyes pulled into a glare when he saw that Yuuto had approached her. He trusted Botan completely, but that didn't mean that he was keen on the idea of the psychic encroaching upon what was his. His fists clenched as he took a step forward, only to be halted by Yukina's presence.
"Would you mind helping me bring out some of the other desserts?" she asked, eyes wide in innocence.
He glanced back at Botan and noticed that Kuwabara had decided to join her and Yuuto in conversation. He felt the tension draining from his shoulders and jaw. Perhaps the oaf was good for something, he admitted, before giving Yukina a confirmatory nod. He followed her to the kitchen, where there were a few trays of homemade goods and other assortments.
"How have you been?" Yukina asked conversationally.
"I'm fine," he answered.
"I'm glad that you and Botan made up," she noted. "I was so happy when you both first started seeing each other after the Dark Tournament."
"Because," she started with a soft smile. "Even if I wasn't sure if you were my brother back then, you were still a friend. I was glad that the two of you could find happiness with each other."
"You're far too caring," he told her.
"Only to those who deserve it," she replied.
"And I suppose you think that includes the lumbering oaf," he presumed with a begrudging frown.
"Of course," she replied. "Kazuma is a good man. He even told me that you gave us your blessing."
Hiei looked away. He should have known that Kuwabara would mention their private conversation to Yukina. He had no filter when it came to her.
"He was very thankful to receive your consent. I don't think I've ever seen him that relieved, not even after you all had won the Dark Tournament," she divulged with a fond look. "But I understand his sentiments. I'm also very thankful that we can all be together like this."
Hiei nodded in understanding.
"If you're happy, then dealing with Kuwabara's presence is a small price to pay," he answered.
Yukina smiled, but said no more. Hiei accepted the tray from her and followed her back to where the festivities were. The general noise level had decreased and the environment seemed to have settled down somewhat. When Botan spotted him, she immediately returned to his side.
"Do you want to dance?" she asked.
"I don't dance."
"Technically, you don't have to. It's a slow song, so all you'd have to do is hold me," she explained.
"I don't like PDA," he countered.
Botan blinked, before raising a brow.
"Where did you learn that phrase?"
"Blame it on Haru," he replied.
"Well, that's fine," she said. "I suppose I can always go and find another dance partner instead."
His hand snaked around her waist and pulled her close before she had the chance to wander off.
"You really are more wily than you appear, woman."
"You love it," she teased, giving him a peck on the lips.
Hiei smirked into the kiss drawing it out until he sensed the telltale signs of a familiar approach.
"Hey, turn down the heat, we have minors here," Yusuke joked, causing them to pull apart.
"It isn't nice to tease!" she said with an embarrassed flush as she fanned her cheeks with her hand. "Besides, none of us harassed you over those sentimental vows!"
"They weren't sentimental," he denied. "They were badass."
"They were totally sentimental, Urameshi," Kuwabara agreed as he and Kurama joined them. "What did he say again?"
"I remember," Botan said, before clearing her throat dramatically. "Keiko, you're the love of my life. The apple of my eye. My reason for living."
Kuwabara erupted into a fit of laughter as she continued and Kurama watched on with interest.
"Hiei, control your woman!" Yusuke ordered, pointing a finger in Botan's direction as she continued to laugh away at his expense.
"Hn, that's not the way it works."
"I guess we know who wears the pants in that relationship," Kuwabara whispered to Yusuke in a completely unsubtle manner.
"Yeah, and who's on top during sex," Yusuke joked.
Botan immediately stopped laughing, eyes wide as her cheeks became flushed with color once more. Hiei's expression remained impassive, but he had to hand it to Yusuke's detective skills: he always managed to come across the parts of the truth with little effort and an almost unfair amount of luck.
"Wait a minute…" Yusuke started slowly, looking between Hiei and Botan as the realization kicked in.
Botan looked away nervously, resting her cool hands on her heated cheeks in an attempt to return them to normal, while Hiei crossed his arms over his chest and stared back at the rest of the group impassively.
"Don't tell me Urameshi's off-handed comment was actually the truth!" Kuwabara bemoaned, the color draining from his face as he pointed a shaky finger in their direction.
"How else do you suppose she convinced me to attend this mundane event?" Hiei answered plainly.
Yusuke whistled at the same time Botan let out a horrified squeal.
"Ugh! I did not need to hear that!" Kuwabara said, covering his ears with a pained expression.
"There is such a thing as too much information, Hiei," Kurama advised.
Botan covered her face in her hands, but Hiei did not see the big fuss. The woman had always said that she admired his honest and straightforward nature. They asked a question and he answered.
"Let's all just forget that this conversation ever happened, shall we?" Botan suggested, a forced smile painted on her face. "If I ever hear a word of this, you will all be personally reintroduced to my metal bat."
She stomped off in towards Keiko's direction, the blush still visible from yards away. Yusuke waited until she was far enough away that she couldn't hear him before turning to Hiei.
"Does she use the bat in bed too?" he inquired with a lewd grin.
Hiei rolled his eyes, not bothering to dignify that with a response.
"It's kind of sad that even on his wedding day, he's a raging pervert," Kuwabara accused, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Old habits die hard," Kurama noted.
"Oh come on, that was gold," Yusuke said, letting out a long suffering sigh when he did not receive any response. "I really need new friends. None of you are on my wavelength."
"Thank goodness for that," Kuwabara said.
"For once, I have to agree with the oaf," Hiei concurred.
"Whatever, you guys know that life would be dull and boring without me," Yusuke replied facetiously.
"That is true," Kurama admitted, before subtly veering the topic elsewhere. "How does it feel to be married, Yusuke?"
"Same as always… Feels like I've been married to Keiko since that day we met," he joked. "But I wonder who'll be next to tie the knot? Botan came pretty close to catching the bouquet."
"I fail to see what that has to do with anything," Hiei deadpanned.
"It's a human tradition," Kurama filled in. "It's said that the woman who catches the bride's bouquet will be the next to get married."
"Hn. Botan knows how I feel about her. I don't need a silly human construct such as marriage to prove it," he replied.
"Aw, that was almost romantic. Careful, you'll give our warrior of love a run for his money," Yusuke teased.
"Shorty wouldn't know romance if it hit him in the face," Kuwabara grumbled.
"You say that as if it were an insult, you lovesick fool," Hiei shot back.
Kuwabara shouted back an unintelligible insult at the same time that Kurama spoke.
"To think, the two of them could be brothers-in-law someday," Kurama stated with an amused glint in his emerald eyes.
Yusuke began openly laughing, while Kuwabara froze with a goofy grin on his face, apparently lost in the idea of someday marrying Yukina.
"I don't know why I put up with any of you," Hiei grumbled in distaste as he turned away from them.
But deep down he did. It was the same reason why he was able to let a woman like Botan invade his walls in the first place. He wasn't as heartless as he claimed to be, nor was he as cursed as the women of the ice village had believed him to be.
His train of thought derailed when he felt someone's attentions on him and soon enough he locked gazes with Botan. It was almost surreal that he was standing here today, able to call her his own. When this whole fiasco started, he thought that the dating game would be another base and fragile human concept that he could overcome with little effort and persistence, but he soon learned that it was a tricky one. It shattered the heart that he didn't know he had and slowly pieced it back together again until it was stronger and more resilient; it threw his world upside down and skewered his perspective; it tripped him up and shook him in ways he didn't think imaginable, and yet as she smiled openly at him, he realized that he held no regrets.
He would do it all again, a thousand times over, if it meant that he would end up with her.
Huge thank you to everyone who has read, alerted and/or favorite'd. And an especially heartfelt thank you to those who reviewed. I had so much fun writing this monster of a story and I'm so thankful for all of you who stuck with it until the very end. Your reactions, comments and reviews made the stress of writing and revising the chapters completely worth it.
If you're interested in more H/B goodness, I've recently published a new story featuring the two. It's an AU, though, so if you like that kinda thing feel free to check it out.
Once again, thank you all for your interest in The Dating Game. It was a pleasure writing for you all.