"State your name."
"Your full name, please."
"Suichi 'Yoko Kurama' Minamino."
"Very good, sir. And what can you tell us about Exhibit A?"
"It's essence of heartshade."
"And do you know what the effects of this are?"
"Please answer the question, sir."
"And your official title, miss?"
"I'm the Pilot of the River Styx, Manager of Spirit Detective Affairs, and Maj—um, former Majordomo of Spirit World Ferriers."
"Thank you. And would you risk these many accomplishments for a man you loved?"
"And do you love the man in this photograph?"
"Very good, sir. And you said a few moments ago that you slipped some drops of this essence of heartshade into the antidote that you gave her?"
"Yes. Therefore her title should be reinstated, as she was being fully manipulated through no fault of her own."
"To what end?"
"To an ignoble end. I needed her to tell Meinuko that she loved me. She had to want to stay in Demon World so I might escape."
"Would you describe the man in this photograph as honest? . . . Miss? Do you have any reason to doubt his honor? Miss?"
"And do you have anything else to confess, Mr. Minamino?"
"We hereby sentence the demon Yoko Kurama to ten years of probation. We sentence the human Suichi Minamino to five hundred hours of community service, two years of probation, and we fine the entity that comprises both Yoko Kurama and Suichi Minamino the value of the Band of Shadows."
Koenma stood. "No—have that last part stricken."
Botan watched Kurama, who watched Koenma.
"I will not give a former thief more incentive to resort to his old ways. The probation and community service may stand, but the fine must be left out. Kurama was not the one who destroyed the artifact, anyway."
As Koenma and his entourage left, Kurama followed Botan out with his eyes. Her own were swollen from having to relive the nightmare of the past few weeks. He guessed the heartshade confession would keep her awake for a few more nights, yet.
Understand, he pleaded with her silently, please understand it's for your own good. The less stock you put in the feelings you experienced, the easier it will be to dismiss them.
He'd had to rely on the heft of his older trespasses to convince her he was conniving enough to drug her with heartshade, and a part of him twinged at how quickly she'd believed it. He hadn't realized until then that he was hoping she wouldn't take it as truth so easily. All the better, then. If she could find it within herself to hate him, even if considering that possibility left him tense in his chest and tired from within his very bones, she could move on with her life. No more of this back-and-forth, done with all the maybes.
But she would never hate him.
As she stepped through the doorway, she looked over her shoulder at him with pity, despite all he'd done, and all he'd claimed he'd done.
Of course she wouldn't hate him. She would continue to torture herself because she was too good to write someone off. Even Meinuko didn't deserve ire in her mind, though she was the reason his relationship with Botan could never be; but Botan would never know . . . must never know.
Meinuko wanted to poison my relationship with a woman she believed was lesser than she. She may have succeeded, but she is entirely wrong about her.
Botan would wrestle with Kurama's confessions for weeks, perhaps months, and forgive him every time she wanted to be angry at him. He was completely unworthy of her, and despite that knowledge, he wondered if, maybe—but he tamped that thought down. He was only allowed to want her if it brought him the pain it had already brought her. He would not allow himself to hope; he would allow only rejection to fill his mind when he thought of her.
She was so much more than anyone ever gave her credit for: a champion of friendship and mercy and what was ultimately love, for her friends, for her enemies, for everyone, and not for the first time, Kurama found himself thanking her silently for being the person she was: a glimmer of honesty in the muck of his tainted life—a beacon of honor among thieves.
And that's a wrap! Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your impatience, too. I'm so sorry it took this long, but it absolutely had to be right. I hope it was worth the wait, despite the lack of a traditionally happy ending. The sequel will come when it pleases-big surprise, huh?
The working title of the sequel is "Ashes and Gold." Botan will be moving out with Shizuru, whom Shiori correctly predicted would find her niche in working society soon. It will continue immediately from when Kurama arrives in Human World, and the plot will focus mainly on retrieving the Spirit Detective Items. And as I mentioned in Chapter 10's notes, it'll be a heavier tone. I don't know, blame my ASOIAF obsession. #braime4ever
Thank you to all who gave me suggestions! I couldn't quite incorporate everything with how the pace worked out, but I will do my best to address what I can in Ashes and Gold. And don't worry—I will include more romance, though it may be more of a slow burn. As yet, I have not written the ending to that, either, so I can't promise much more than what the initial chapters have outlined.
And you can bet my dog's fuzzy butt that Kurama and Botan's Demon World Tournament romp mentioned in Chapter 10 will be making both of them blushy and snippy in Ashes and Gold . . .
NEXT TIME, ON YU YU HAKUSHO (FANFICTION)!