Botan made her way to the guestroom at deliberately slow pace to give herself time to think about what she wanted to say to Amaya. Even if the Spirit Detective failed to hear her shouting things that Amaya was not ready to learn about yet, the reaper had no doubt that the earlier battle would be a pressing concern for the teenage girl. Botan knew that she to provide damage control and encouragement, but she found herself faltering on both fronts thanks to her own worries.
All too soon, Botan arrived at her destination. She hesitated outside the guestroom, staring at the vague shadows through the rice paper screen. A quiet sigh slipped from her lips, her warm breath creating a cloud of thin white mist in the cold night air. She was forced to admit that it was too much to hope she would find some form of inspiration by simply delaying the inevitable.
Botan straightened up and raised her chin as she summoned all the good cheer she could muster. If nothing else, she refused to add to Amaya’s worries. She slid the door open with a clatter as she threw all of her energy into her melodious greeting, imitating the sound of a trumpet playing a victorious song. “Dinner is served!”
The result was not one Botan had intended. Seeing Amaya jerk and tense up while staring at her with wide eyes made her wonder if she should have knocked first. She pressed on, knowing it was too late to take back her entrance now. “So! How’s my favorite Spirit Detective doing?” As soon as the question left her mouth, she felt an unwanted pang of guilt stab her heart while an image of Yusuke flashed in her mind. Even though she meant the words as a simple, cheerful platitude to put her charge at ease, for a brief moment she felt like a liar and a traitor.
Amaya swallowed hard before she focused on the bandaged hands in her lap, her fingers slowly uncurling from the fists she held them in when Botan entered. Her answer came after a few tense seconds of silence. “Better.”
Botan felt her nervousness grow, but she tried not to let it show on her face. The atmosphere between them was unusually tense, or at least it felt that way to her. The expression on the Spirit Detective’s face was one she imagined someone would probably wear when they overheard something they should not have. Calm down, Botan. You’re overreacting. She’s probably just still shaken up from the battle. That’s all. That’s… all. The chill from outside bit into her back and caused her to shiver.
Amaya raised her eyes to meet Botan’s as the reaper closed the door. “What about you? Your arm…”
Botan set the tray down on the floor beside Amaya and made a show of waving her right hand. “Oh it’s fiiine. Don’t you worry about little old me.” She rotated her arm, as though winding up for a fight. Twinges of pain from her shoulder strained the smile she wore, but she was determined not to falter. “I’m a lot tougher than I look.”
A grimace flickered across Amaya’s face for a brief moment as her gaze focused on Botan’s wrists. “Yukina told me that you healed yourself… and that Kurama wasn’t injured?”
Botan tried to be discreet when hiding the faint bruises that lingered on her wrists with the sleeves of her kimono. “Right on both counts. A good night’s rest and I’ll be back to tip top condition.” She wagged a finger, the gesture lost under her pink sleeve. “And don’t you worry about Kurama. That nasty witch didn’t lay a finger on him.” She sat down so that she could lean in close to Amaya, her voice dropping into a conspiratorial tone. “Just between you and me, I think he was pretty upset about that. You know guys – always wanting to show their manliness by protecting us girls, even if we can take care of ourselves.” She straightened up so that the other girl could see her coy wink.
Amaya’s posture relaxed slightly, much to Botan’s relief, the corner of her mouth tugging upward a little. “I’m glad…” She paused for a moment, a faint hint of red coloring her cheeks. “That he’s alright I mean. I got worried when he didn’t come back.”
Botan felt her concerns start to ebb at the sight of Amaya’s smile. “I wouldn’t worry about Kurama.” She giggled softly. “You just watch, I guarantee you that next time we go off on a mission, he’s going to insist on taking on all the demons by himself first before either of us have a chance to do anything.”
Amaya nodded slowly, her expression thoughtful and her gaze distant. “What happened to him back there? He left to find you after you screamed, but…”
Botan sighed, slumping a bit, as she ignored how the action upset her shoulder. Being held hostage still bothered her immensely. “It was that nasty trick of Irokafue’s that did it. Kurama had to let one of those demons of hers chase him to a whole other district before he could defeat it and get back to us.” She paused briefly and decided that it would be best if she did not tell Amaya about all of the victims at the meatpacking plant. It felt like too much to pile onto the other girl’s concerns on top of everything else. “Anyway, he managed to take care of it and get back to us just in the nick of time to take care of Irokafue for good.”
Amaya began to nod then stopped, lifting her head in a quick motion to stare at Botan with widening eyes. “Take care of… but I thought… I destroyed both of Irokafue’s weak spots, didn’t I?”
Botan went rigid when she realized her mistake. Automatically she began to laugh in an effort to diffuse the situation while hands fluttered about in meaningless gestures. “Y-yes, well, it seems Irokafue wasn’t quite dead yet when you were through with her… But don’t worry! You weakened her enough that I had no trouble keeping her at bay until Kurama showed up! She was practically helpless thanks to you!”
Amaya’s eyes closed, her face contorted into an almost painful expression. “Oh…” Her head tilted downward, her bangs falling forward to cover her face like a black curtain, as she lapsed into a weighty silence.
Botan could practically see a cloud of doom hanging over Amaya’s head. She silently chided herself for saying unnecessary things when the Spirit Detective needed reassurance more than anything else. “Come on, cheer up! Who cares how it happened? What’s important was that we won, and now that awful demon won’t be troubling anyone ever again, and all those children can go home. We should be celebrating!” She seized Amaya’s hands to capture the dark haired girl’s attention and felt victorious when Amaya jerked her head towards the pink-eyed girl. “Seriously, you did great back there. Really! I was amazed how calmly you took everything. Why, I was terrified and had no idea how we were going to get out of Irokafue’s clutches, but you kept calm and your quick thinking saved the day. You’re a hero, Amaya!”
Amaya stared at Botan, her wide blue eyes barely visible between strands of her hair. Her mouth moved, but no words came out. Her body faintly trembled as she attempted to pull back from the reaper.
Botan felt her insides twist as she realized that her pep talk was not working. “I… I know it’s a lot to take in, but if there’s anything troubling you, you can go ahead and tell me. That’s what a guide is here for, right? I can promise you that I’m one hundred percent on your side no matter what.”
Botan gave Amaya’s hands a firm, reassuring squeeze, only for the other girl to lurch forward, banging their heads together. She yelped in pain as stars briefly flashed across her eyes. She nearly fell backwards, but recovered quickly, letting go of Amaya to rub the place where their foreheads collided. “Ow… That hurt!” She focused on Amaya, ready to demand an explanation for the abrupt assault, only to realize that the Spirit Detective had doubled over, arms curled close in a defensive position. “Amaya?” A beat later, the reaper realized what had happened. “Oh my gosh! Your hands… I’m so, so sorry! I totally forgot. Here, let me help…”
Amaya reluctantly pulled herself upward, her breathing coming in ragged bursts. Her movements were stiff as she reluctantly allowed Botan to take a hold of her forearms forward in a delicate hold. She watched through her bangs as Botan used energy on her hands, her vision distorted by unshed tears.
As the pain slowly died down, Amaya’s breathing evened out enough for her to speak. “Th… thank you.”
Botan stared at Amaya, taken aback. The last thing she expected was thanks after aggravating the blue-eyed girl’s injuries. “Thank me? For what?”
“For… believing in me,” Amaya said, the words strained. She managed a weak smile. “I know… there’s no way I can compare to Mr. Urameshi, and I know… I don’t know much of anything about demons, Spirit World, or even being a Spirit Detective…” She paused for a moment then let out a weak, humorless chuckle. “I doubt I even know as much about myself as you or King Yama do…” Botan flinched. “…But I promise, I’ll do my best to get better at this, so you won’t get hurt like that again… and so we won’t need to wait to be rescued.”
For a long moment, Botan was at a loss, overwhelmed by the numerous emotions stirred by Amaya’s speech. The other girl’s name slipped from her lips and her healing ceased due to her waning concentration and energy – she had not recovered enough from using nearly all of her energy earlier to do much more than take the edge off Amaya’s pain.
Botan wondered if Amaya was referring to the things she said a moment ago, or if the other girl was also referencing when she defended Amaya earlier against the suggestion that the Spirit Detective was working for the enemy. She wanted to ask, but was afraid of what would happen if she was wrong, even if it seemed more and more likely that Amaya was waiting for her to bring the subject up. Either way, it was her job as guide to the Spirit Detective to help her charge during troubled times.
When Botan finally gathered her wits, her voice came stronger than she expected. “You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. No one is expecting you to be an expert right away. Why, even Yusuke had a hard time when he first started out. You’d be surprised how many times he managed to win by sheer dumb luck.”
Amaya brushed back her bangs with her forearm to get a better look at Botan, her expression incredulous. “Really? But I thought he was already a strong fighter even before he became Spirit Detective, and that he was even more powerful than Kurama.”
“Well, yes,” Botan said slowly. “Yusuke was always getting into scrapes ever since he was rather young, but getting into fistfights with other teenagers doesn’t compare to fighting with demons. It’s true that he’s very powerful now, but back when he first started out, there’s no way he could’ve fought someone like Irokafue on his own.”
Silence lingered for a number of long seconds as Amaya stared at Botan, processing this new information. Finally, her gaze dropped down to her hands. “How do you think Mr. Urameshi would’ve handled it? Back when he was first getting started I mean.”
Botan let out a quiet hum as her eyes drifted towards the ceiling. Memories of Yusuke brought back so many bittersweet feelings. “Honestly, I’m not sure. He probably would’ve used the Spirit Gun on her, but beyond that, well…” Her brow furrowed before she returned her gaze to Amaya. “Well, to give you some idea about how Yusuke handled things back then, one of the first cases he won was because he gambled everything on striking a special mirror he was supposed to recover with his Spirit Gun so that it would reflect the blast and hit Hiei in the back, knocking him right out.”
Amaya blinked repeatedly. “The Spirit Gun can be reflected by mirrors? I didn’t know that.”
Botan let out a quiet chuckle as she thought back to how cross she had been at the risk Yusuke took during that mission. Recalling the long round of spankings Koenma received from Yama due to Yusuke breaking the mirror – as well as allowing the three treasures to be stolen in the first place – made the memory all the more humorous. “Neither did Yusuke, but he still tried it anyway. And, just so you know, Kurama had to help save Yusuke in the nick of time during that fight too by blocking what would’ve been a fatal blow.” Her smile widened, growing wry, as she gave a wink. “You might say Kurama has some experience in rescuing Spirit Detectives.”
“So this…” Amaya made a vague sweeping gesture. “This is… normal?”
Botan giggled softly. “Well, as normal as the job gets I suppose. So don’t be too surprised if you find yourself winning through unexpected means, like falling into a sinkhole full of water, or getting swamp algae stuck in your ears.”
Amaya stared at Botan, eyes wide. “That’s… unbelievable.”
Botan let out a wistful sigh. “Yes, well, Yusuke always managed to make each case very exciting. It seems to come with the territory.”
Amaya went quiet, her focus returning to her bandaged hands.
Botan had enough of the lengthy silences between them and seeing Amaya so depressed. Regardless of what the other girl might have heard, she was determined to make Amaya smile again. She took a hold of the Spirit Detective’s shoulders to draw Amaya’s attention back to her, certain this time that she was not touching another injury on the teenage girl’s body. “So cheer up! You’re doing just fine. The fact that you’re giving it your all is more than enough. Really.”
Amaya’s expression was hesitant for a moment more before a small smile began to tug at her lips. She nodded slightly with a quiet affirmative hum. “Okay. I’ll try.”
Botan felt as though a heavy weight had finally been lifted from her shoulders and she was more than happy to be rid of it. “Glad to hear it!” She let go of Amaya after giving her charge’s shoulders one final pat. “Now let’s get you fed and rested. You’ve earned some R and R after today.” She picked up the tray of food and placed it on her lap. “It’d be a shame to let such delicious food go to waste, don’t you think?” She waited until Amaya nodded then picked up the chopsticks. “Since you can’t use your hands right now, I’ll be happy to use mine as a substitute until you’re finished healing.”
Amaya’s smile grew a bit stronger and the tension between them seemed to ease. “Botan?”
Botan looked up, a bowl of rice in one hand and chopsticks in the other. “Yes?”
“You and Mr. Urameshi…,” Amaya said slowly, a nervous note creeping into her voice. “You’re friends, right?”
Botan blinked, baffled by the sudden shift in topic. “Well, yes. Of course. Why do you ask?”
Heat rose to Amaya’s cheeks and she chewed on her lower lip for a moment. “Do you… do you think we… could be friends too?” Her words slowly trailed off the more she spoke, ending on an uncertain note.
Botan stared at Amaya, taken aback, but only for a moment. “Of course! Why, we’re friends already, aren’t we? I know we haven’t known each other very long, but I don’t see why that should matter. Especially after we’ve been through so much together already.”
Amaya exhaled slowly and her expression brightened considerably. “Thank you.”
The mood had shifted greatly for the better, much to Botan’s relief. Though the two girls did not say much while the reaper helped the Spirit Detective eat, it was a far more companionable silence than before. That was why Amaya’s sudden gasp caught Botan off-guard.
“I just remembered!” Amaya said, anxiety lacing her voice. “I need to call my mother and father right away. They’re probably worrying about me since I haven’t come home or called yet.”
Botan set the chopsticks down. “Never fear, I’ve got that covered.” She reached into her sleeve and pulled out Amaya’s cell phone with a triumphant note. “I can dial them up for you and leave the room so you can have some privacy if you’d like.”
“No, that’s okay,” Amaya said with a shake of her head. “I can’t hold the phone to my ear, and the walls are so thin that you’ll hear everything if I use the speaker phone anyway.”
“Oh yeah, that’s true,” Botan muttered. A second later, she froze in place, staring at Amaya with wide eyes as her heart began to race. Compelled by the need to somehow address her earlier outburst in the living room and put the matter to rest once and for all, words tumbled out of her mouth before she could fully think them through. “I-I mean, it can’t be helped if someone overhears something they didn’t intend to from time to time, not just because the walls are thin. And perhaps if they did, that person might have a hard time bringing the subject up because it’s difficult or strange or confusing or embarrassing. But even if that person did hear something odd, all they have to do is just ask about it and they can talk it out instead of leaving someone else wondering if that person needs to say something to that person or just keep quiet about it. Know what I mean?”
Amaya’s expression was blank. “What?”
Botan held up her hands. “I-I’m just saying that if there’s anything else you need to tell me, say something, er, strange you might have overheard, then you don’t need to be afraid to ask me about it. I’ll be happy to explain anything you like. That’s what I’m here for after all.” She fumbled for a moment for what else she should say, nervous laughter bubbling out instead of words.
Pink flooded Amaya’s cheeks as she suddenly found the screen door interesting. “O-oh, so… so you noticed?”
Botan felt her insides twist and she nodded, her smile turning more into a grimace. “Well… it wasn’t hard to figure it out.”
“It was an accident,” Amaya said quickly. “I didn’t mean to overhear anything. I was just... I was looking for a bathroom and I heard voices so I thought I’d go ask but, well…”
Botan swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly unbearably dry. “W-well then, you must have a lot of questions…”
The tense silence that lingered between them as Amaya took her time in answering was almost too much for Botan to handle. “That’s true,” the dark haired girl muttered. “I’m just not sure what to ask first.” Her shoulders lowered a fraction as she exhaled deeply. “It’s kind of overwhelming to be honest. There’s so much I don’t know…”
Botan had a hard time keeping still and squirmed slightly from side to side. “Yes, that’s only natural given the circumstances. Just go ahead and ask the first thing that pops into your head and we’ll go from there, okay?”
Amaya nodded and finally turned back to Botan. “Yukina hasn’t been here on Earth for very long, has she?”
The question caught Botan completely off-guard. She opened her mouth only to close it a moment later. She shook her head vigorously for a second to get her thoughts working again when she reminded herself that she needed to answer. “Not too long I guess… Just a few short visits before she came to live here with Genkai rather recently.”
Amaya smiled. “I thought so.” She giggled quietly. “Actually, to tell the truth, it was kind of funny hearing her call my cell phone a cage phone.”
Botan held up her hand, wanting to slow the conversation down, as she suddenly felt as though she had lost track of what was going on with it somewhere. “Wait, hold on. Was that all you heard?”
Amaya nodded with a quiet sound of confirmation. “Well, that and that you were bringing it to me along with dinner.”
Botan spoke slowly, hardly daring to believe her ears. “You didn’t hear anything else before that? Like someone shouting or something like that?”
Uncertainty crept into Amaya’s expression. “Yes, but I was still in here at the time so I couldn’t make it out. I was worried you were in trouble at first, but I realized you sounded angry, not scared or hurt.” She paused for a moment. “What were you yelling about anyway?”
Botan’s hands frantically waved in front of her, as though trying to deflect that question. “Oh, nothing! Just a silly little argument we were having. To tell you the truth, I’m still really embarrassed by how I lost my temper like that. It’d be better if everyone just forgot it happened in the first place.”
There was a moment of conflict in Amaya’s expression that made Botan worry that she would press for more information, before she finally relaxed with a smile. “Okay, I understand. It’s been a really rough day on all of us, hasn’t it?”
Botan practically felt like collapsing with relief. She felt as though she had dodged a bullet from pointblank range. “You can say that again.”
Outside in the walkway, Kurama leaned against the wall with his arms folded across his chest. He was just far enough away from the door to the guestroom that he did not risk casting a shadow on the door and giving away his presence to the girls inside. From there, he managed to overhear virtually the entirety of Amaya and Botan’s conversation.
Like Botan, Kurama felt relieved that Amaya had not heard anything sensitive. As curious as he was to find out how the Spirit Detective would have reacted to the information, he did not care to have her find out in such a careless manner. They had gotten lucky this time, but in the future, they would have to be more cautious about taking into account Amaya’s utter lack of presence.
Kurama knew that eventually Amaya would need to learn all the things they knew about her, the state of unrest in the Demon and Human Worlds, and what happened to Yusuke. While he intended to probe a little further about what she knew about herself in the morning, specifically about the seals on her, he was aware that it was far too soon to tell her everything. So far, the girl had done a remarkable job of coping with the pressure of her new responsibilities on top of fighting for her life against frightening opponents who were far more powerful than she was. However, he knew that there were only so many burdens someone could take on all at once before they broke under the strain.
Amaya’s voice floated through the air, barely muffled by the screen door. “Hi, Mama, it’s me.” Whatever response her mother made was too quiet for him to make out, suggesting that Botan was holding the phone to her ear rather than using speakerphone. “I’m sorry. I got caught up after the exam with a friend and lost track of time. I wound up falling asleep while we were talking and I just woke up a little while ago. I guess I probably stayed up too late last night.”
Kurama cocked his head slightly. Interesting interpretation of the events.
“I know, I’m sorry,” Amaya said softly before forcing a small laugh. “I guess I was just worrying too much. You know, the exam is such a big deal and all.” She paused, obviously listening to her mother. “I think I did okay. I felt pretty confident about my answers.” She waited for about a minute in silence. “Actually, since it is so late, I thought I’d spend the night over here. I’m still too tired to take the long walk home. Oh, by the way, Nanako wanted me to let you know that she thinks that the new prototype mascot design makes the phoenix look too much like a penguin, and that you should consider something like a swallow or a peacock as a base instead.”
The comment about a phoenix that looked like a penguin brought a smile to Kurama’s lips as he thought of Puu. It was a pity he could not see request to see the design or show it to Yusuke. No doubt, the former Spirit Detective’s reaction would have been quite amusing to say the least. The faint sound of Botan’s not quite stifled laughter hinted to him that she could see the humor in it as well.
Amaya continued speaking after half a minute. “She says that’s why it’ll be better and more recognizable. Maybe all you need is a new drawing style.” She let out a prolonged yawn as her mother responded. “I told you yesterday, didn’t I? I thought it looked cute, but Nanako does have a point.” She made a quiet noise before her voice grew heavier. “Oh yeah, I’m also supposed to tell you that she wants reservations for two for Valentine’s Day.” She yawned again. “You know, get it before the rush.” She waited for the reply. “Downtown.” Another yawn followed by a sigh. “Okay.” Her voice grew vague as she spoke, her words coming out slightly distorted from exhaustion. “Goodnight, Mama. I love you.”
The beep of the phone ended the call. “Maybe you should get some sleep,” Botan said with a touch of concern. “It really has been a long day.”
“Not just yet,” Amaya said. The fatigue was gone from her voice, replaced with a different note of weariness, one Kurama was intimately familiar with every time he had to lie to Shiori about certain activities he refused to let his mother find out about. “I’d like to finish eating first at least.” She sighed. “And I’d really like a bath. I feel dirty and there’s this weird smell, but…”
“Oh,” Botan said. “That’s probably just the herbal medicine Kurama used with the bandages. Don’t worry about that. You can wash it off after we finish healing your hands in the morning.”
Amaya let out a breathy laugh. “Of course he can heal too. Is there anything Kurama can’t do?”
When Botan let out a thoughtful hum, Kurama could imagine her making an almost exaggerated show of considering the answer. “Not really.” She paused to let out a sly giggle. “Unless you count getting a girlfriend.”
If Kurama had not been leaning against the wall, he likely would have fallen over instead of sliding down a few centimeters.
Amaya made an odd noise that was difficult to decipher. Kurama was not sure if he was glad he was unable to see her expression at that moment. “Y-you’re kidding!”
Botan laughed merrily. “Nope! He’s been single as long as I’ve known him, and, unlike Hiei, he doesn’t have the excuse of having a poor personality to explain it.”
“But he’s so… so nice,” Amaya said, her tone incredulous. “Not to mention he’s very a, ah… he looks so… uh…”
Botan’s voice went a note lower. “Drop dead gorgeous?”
Amaya’s answer was an almost strangled sound that reached an impressively high pitch.
The conversation’s sudden change in direction nearly made Kurama regret listening in on the girls in the first place. It was uncomfortable enough to overhear his peers at school gossip about him when he was clearly within earshot without Botan discussing his lack of a love life to the new girl in their group.
Botan’s laughter tinkled like chimes. “Oh, don’t act like you didn’t notice! You got a good look at Kurama with the Psychic Spyglass after all.”
Amaya sputtered out seemingly random syllables for a number of seconds before she finally strung them together into something coherent. “I-I wasn’t… It… it was an accident! I swear! I didn’t mean to see him like… that… it…”
Botan feigned a scandalized tone. “Oh sure, the first time, but I seem to recall you got at least one more good look, didn’t you? You naughty girl.”
Kurama barely suppressed the urge to put his hand over his face and cover up his uncomfortably warm cheeks. He supposed he should have expected something like this – Botan never could stop herself from teasing people when it came to relationships. Her laughter overtop Amaya’s incoherent stammering certainly did not help him feel any more at ease with the conversation. He sincerely hoped that Botan did not plan to try out some matchmaking on him now that Yusuke was not around to be the target of her more mischievous activities. Embarrassment aside, it felt highly inappropriate for her to pair him off with Amaya, particularly given the circumstances.
Botan’s laughter quieted down, but it carried over into each word she spoke. “I wonder what Tatsuo would say if he knew you saw another man naked before him!”
The statement made Kurama pause to reassess his previous assumption.
“You… you can’t tell him!” Amaya said, her voice cracking due to its high pitch.
Botan giggled. “Oh don’t worry, I’m only teasing. I wouldn’t dream of ruining things between you and Tatsuo. Especially not before you finally confess your feelings for him.”
Amaya made an odd sound that was almost like a young animal’s cry. “I can’t believe that something like that… How do you even know…?”
“Oh, it’s just one of the many things Spirit World likes to keep track of,” Botan said, her tone far too jovial for anyone else’s comfort. “You have no idea just how important love is in the grand scheme of things. Which is why you need to hurry up and let Tatsuo know how you feel, before some other girl snatches him away from you. He is quite popular you know.”
Now the conversation had become more uncomfortable for Kurama for different reasons. While he did want to find out more about what was in Amaya’s file, her love life was not one of those things he necessarily needed to know. While he could leave the girls to gossip in privacy, at the same time, he hesitated, as he knew there was still a chance that Botan could let something important slip while they were having such a candid conversation.
Amaya groaned as though in pain. “Can’t… he… Tatsuo is… There’s no way I could…”
“Sure you can!” Botan said. “All you have to do is take the aggressive approach – confront Tatsuo when he least expects it, look him square in the eye, and give him a one-two punch of love!”
Amaya’s tone was faint, but clearly skeptical. “‘One-two punch of love?’”
Botan hummed softly. “Well, okay, maybe that kind of approach might be a bit too aggressive for you. Oh, I know! Since Tatsuo is the most popular boy at your school and Kurama is the most popular at his, you could always ask Kurama for advice about what kind of confession would make him fall for a girl.”
Kurama could not help but wonder why Botan kept insisting on dragging him into this sort of conversation. Was it overcompensation for not being able to meddle with Yusuke and Keiko’s relationship anymore, or because she could not stand to see a friend remain single? Even if he had any intention of letting on that he overheard the conversation, he doubted anything he said to the reaper would deter her from her matchmaking urges.
A sudden thought occurred to Kurama that made him look at the conversation in a new light. Perhaps Botan’s true intent was to distract Amaya from thinking about the earlier mission. Romance certainly had a way of diverting one’s thoughts away from their problems. Not to mention how distracting it was to talk about rather embarrassing things of a personal nature.
“Ask him…,” Amaya said slowly, her voice an octave higher than usual. “I… you want me to ask Kurama what I’d have to say to him to make him fall in love with me?”
“You never know,” Botan said with a giggle. “It might just work on Tatsuo too.”
Of course, Kurama could not dismiss the idea that Botan’s true incentive behind the suggestion was to find out what he was looking for in a girlfriend so that she could go on the hunt for one, or if this was simply idle teasing on her part without much more thought than that. It was hard to tell for sure, though her suggestion seemed more forceful than her usual tactics.
It took Amaya a moment to come up with a reply. “And you think that’ll help?”
Botan tried to sound innocent, but the sweetness of her tone was too artificial for Kurama to be convinced that it was sincere. “Well, it couldn’t hurt, could it?”
“Are… are you just teasing me?” Amaya’s tone hovered somewhere between mortification and wariness. “I… I can’t ask him something embarrassing like that. He would think that I… that I think… B-besides, if you want to know what kind of girl Kurama is looking for so you can tease him too, you should just ask him yourself.”
“Oops,” Botan said, her voice still light, but somewhat chastised as well. “You caught me. But I really do think it couldn’t hurt to get the male perspective on things. Plus it would be nice to see Kurama find a nice girl, don’t you think?”
Kurama resisted the temptation to interrupt their conversation and inform Botan that he already had a woman in his life who was more dear to him than all others – Shiori. The love of a mother was more than he ever deserved. In any case, romance would simply complicate things for him.
Amaya sounded a touch put off. “In that case, why don’t you ask Kurama out on a date?”
The question was enough to make Botan lose her teasing tone, replacing it with shock. “What? Me?”
Kurama’s eyes drifted towards the sky. As if this conversation couldn’t get any more awkward.
“Now hold on,” Botan said, her words fumbling a bit. “You don’t seriously think I…” She forced a laugh. “Kurama and I are just friends. It’d be terribly awkward, don’t you think? Besides, we work together, and I’ve always heard that co-workers really shouldn’t date, and the same is true for dating your boss. Not to mention he’s never even hinted even the slightest bit of interest in me. Or at least not that I’ve noticed, and I’m pretty sure I would’ve noticed something like that. With all the men in my life, you’d think that if any of them was interested, they would’ve said something over all the time we’ve spent together, bantering off of each other, working side by side that he’d even give the slightest hint that I…” Her tirade slowly tapered off into nothing.
Despite the mild awkwardness Kurama felt over the topic, he could not help but wonder if Botan had been thinking of someone in particular – if not him, then someone else he knew. Despite supporting Yusuke and Keiko’s relationship, she had been especially close to Yusuke… Sometimes Botan and Yusuke almost behaved like an old married couple with how they carried on. Although, one could argue that Yusuke had a similar rapport with Kuwabara.
Amaya cleared her throat, breaking the silence. “Would you mind helping me to the bathroom? Please?”
Botan let out a tiny startled yelp. “Huh? Oh, sure! Of course!”
That was Kurama’s cue to leave. He moved silently down the hall as he filed away everything that he had overheard. Amaya and Botan’s conversation had been very informative, but much of what he learned were things that he felt he would have preferred not to think about. Such was the downside of listening in on other peoples’ private conversations, he supposed.
Amaya was up early the following morning to watch the sunrise over Genkai’s well-tended garden. The temperature had dropped during the night, bringing with it a fresh layer of snow to cover everything in white. Although the borrowed kimono she wore was insufficient to keep out much of the cold, watching the first rays of daylight reflecting countless tiny glittering rainbows across the smooth blanket of white had a calming effect that allowed her to ignore her discomfort for the moment. Her dreams were an unpleasant mishmash of troubling images, but thankfully, none of it forced her to relive an alternate, tragic version of yesterday’s battle. Thoughts of the real events that transpired and the consequences they faced from this point forward were far more pressing than any scenario her subconscious could conjure up.
Amaya felt more than heard someone approach and turned just in time to see Yukina appear from around the corner. The ice demon’s eyes widened briefly upon spotting her, but a moment later Yukina gave her a smile that she managed to return despite her mood.
“Good morning, Miss Mamori,” Yukina said with a slight bow of her head. “I didn’t expect you to be awake this early. Did you come out to watch the sunrise too?”
“Good morning,” Amaya said almost automatically, and she noticed that a new ribbon adorned the other girl’s hair. “Yeah, it’s really pretty out here.”
Yukina nodded with a soft hum and came to a stop at Amaya’s side. “How are you feeling today? Are your hands feeling any better?”
With some reluctance, Amaya removed her hands from where she tucked them into the kimono sleeves to shield them from the cold, and held them out to Yukina for inspection. “Yes, fortunately. I can actually hold onto things again.”
Yukina’s smile grew brighter. “That’s wonderful. Would you like me to finish healing you now?”
“Yes, please,” Amaya said, privately relieved that Yukina had spared her from needing to ask. Her hands hurt less than they did before, but the pain was still severe.
Waves of brilliant energy washed over Amaya’s hands, slowly easing away the ache with gentle warmth that banished the chill in the air. It came entirely unexpected, as she assumed that an ice maiden’s energy would feel cold.
“Your clothes are clean now,” Yukina said. “After we finish here, I’ll bring them to you so you can get dressed while I make breakfast.” She paused for a moment. “You could take a bath first before you get changed if you’d like.”
The prospect of a hot bath tempted Amaya, but at the same time, she felt uncomfortably indebted to Yukina after how kind the ice demon had been to her. “Actually, I’d like to help you with breakfast first if you don’t mind.”
The offer brought a quizzical expression to Yukina’s face. “I don’t mind, but shouldn’t you be taking it easy? You were nearly possessed by a demon yesterday.”
A sudden sensation of cold that did not come from the air seized Amaya’s insides. “Possessed?”
Yukina blinked slowly, growing a touch distressed. “Oh, I thought Botan had already told you by now. She said she wanted to be the one to let you know after you were feeling better. You see, Master Genkai believes that the demonic energy that burned your hands was part of a curse that was supposed to allow Irokafue’s soul to possess your body.” Upon noticing the panic growing on Amaya’s pale face, she was quick to continue. “Oh, but don’t worry, Miss Mamori! Master Genkai destroyed the curse and got rid of all the demonic energy, so there shouldn’t be anything for you to worry about. You just need to take it easy for a little while.”
The prospect of a bath had become very unappealing to Amaya at this point. The idea of sitting in a quiet place with little to distract her while she had this new terrifying kernel of information churning around in her head to join the rest of her troubled thoughts was far from pleasant. “I… if you say so. E-even still, I think I’d rather help you out in the kitchen right now. My mother is a professional chef and taught me how to cook, so it won’t be any trouble for me.”
“Alright,” Yukina said. “If you insist. I’ll be happy to accept your help.”