“What a beautiful day this is.”
Kurama lifted his face to the sky. The trees whispered around him, and in the distance, he could hear the sound of voices raised in laughter. If he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine the sun smiling down on him, reaching with slender fingers to caress his brow.
“Ah, Kurama! There you are!” a voice chirped. “I’ve been looking all over for you!”
He looked up, shielding his eyes with his hand. “Hello, Botan,” he greeted. He patted the grass beside him. “Come sit down.”
The blue-haired girl giggled and flopped down on the ground. “Ah, my kimono’s going to be all soiled!”
Kurama smiled. He looked up at the sky again, his eyes tracing the silhouette of a bird soaring aimlessly among the clouds. “What is it, Botan?”
“You said you were looking all over for me. Remember?” He smiled teasingly.
“Oh! Oh, yeah… uh… well, it’s nothing, really. I was feeling pretty bored… and I thought you might like some company!” She peered anxiously at him. “This isn’t one of those times when you would like to be alone, is it?”
Kurama laughed. “No, it isn’t,” he assured her. “So, what do you want to do?”
“Me?” She threw herself on the soft grass and stared at the blue, blue sky. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I just want to lie here and do nothing.”
“Sounds good to me.” Kurama lay beside her, and both remained silent for a few long moments, thinking about nothing in particular and both feeling that thinking about nothing was a thoroughly enjoyable pastime and perhaps they should do it more often.
It was Botan who broke the comfortable silence. “How was your day, Kurama-kun?”
“The usual.” Kurama yawned, covering his mouth politely. “I got full marks for my Math test today, and I’m so relieved. Math has never been my best subject. Wait till I tell Kaasan – she’d be so happy. The other day she sat up all night with me to study, even though she knew nothing about Math.” He grinned and sat up. “She won’t believe I got full marks!”
“Oh, I’m sure she will. You’re a model student, after all.” Botan giggled.
Kurama smiled at her. “But still. I was whining on and on about how incomprehensible Math was to me…” His voice trailed off and he flopped back on his back. After a minute or two, he said, wonderingly, “Have you ever had one of those days when you just want to throw everything aside and just… think to yourself what a beautiful day it is?”
“All the time.”
“You know, just do whatever you want…”
“All the time.”
Kurama turned to look at her. They stared at each other for a moment, then he said, “I feel like an ice-cream.”
“I know just the place,” she said, leaping to her feet and brushing off stray blades of grass from her pink kimono. “I flew by it once on my oar. I couldn’t stop then, of course, though I really wanted to. I wonder if I can remember where it is though…”
In fact, she led them straight to the shop with unerring accuracy. “I’d say you have the location memorized!” Kurama remarked, and she blushed, mumbling something under her breath. They each bought an ice-cream, and sat outside on the pavement to eat it.
“Hiei would love this,” Kurama said after a while. “I wonder where he is. He usually meets me after school…”
“Maybe he forgot.”
“More likely he’s off in some God-forsaken wilderness of the Makai kicking youkai butts,” Kurama snorted.
Botan covered her mouth with her sleeve. “Kurama-kun!”
Kurama glanced at his watch. “Drat. I have to go back to school. I’ve got volleyball practice in twenty minutes’ time.”
“Well… skipping it once won’t hurt you.”
“Botan!” Kurama stared at her, amused. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you of all people.”
She reddened a little. “But, Kurama-kun, you’ve been a model student and the perfect son all your life! Surely it can’t hurt to… do what you want to do, instead of what others expect of you… once in a while.”
He looked at her in silence for a while, surprised, perhaps, at the passion with which she had said those words. Then he gave her his usual gentle smile. “You’re right, Botan-chan, it can’t hurt to break the rules a little now and then. But then… I’d feel so terribly guilty afterwards! It’s too late for me, I’m afraid.” His eyes twinkled. “Now Yuusuke and Kuwabara, on the other hand…”
Suddenly he froze. His vision seemed to dim, and for a fleeting moment, he wasn’t sitting on the pavement with Botan, outside in the warm, glorious sun, he was staring at a brown plaster ceiling and he could see the paint peeling from it, and he was thinking privately to himself how the house had really gone to ruin after Maya died…
He turned to see Botan looking at him worriedly. “Botan…” he whispered, “I… Where am I?”
“You’re here, Kurama-kun, with me.”
He gazed at her, and realization seemed to dawn in his eyes. “This is a dream, isn’t it?” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“This.” He swept his arm in a wide arc. “This isn’t real.”
“Kuwabara’s dead, isn’t he?”
Botan turned her head away.
Kurama stared at a passing cyclist. “I remember going to his funeral. Yukina was crying. And so was Yuusuke…”
“Kuwabara-kun died happy, in his sleep, Kurama,” Botan said, finally, her voice muffled.
There was a moment of silence.
“Am I dying in my sleep?”
There was no answer.
The face Botan turned to him was streaked with tears. “Oh, Kurama-kun, I didn’t want you to find out, until the end. You deserve that, at least.” She covered her face with her hands and sobbed into them. “I-I’m so – so – useless!”
She felt an arm around her shoulders. “It’s OK, Botan-chan,” Kurama said, soothingly. “You did very well. I really did think I was back in my youth, for a moment there!” He smiled in remembrance. “Kaasan… and volleyball. Such wonderful memories… and you let me remember all of them again.”
Botan lifted her tear-stained face to his. “Kurama-kun…” she whispered.
“Botan,” he said, “May I see my earthly body, for a few moments?”
“Yes. Yes, of course.”
A moment later, they were standing in his old room in his Kaasan’s house. Kurama reached out a hand and tried to touch the desk, but his hand just passed through it. His room. His room, where he had burnt the midnight oil studying for tests, where Hiei had occasionally came in through the window like a cat wandering in from the night, where he had carried Maya over the threshold on their wedding night, where she had lain on the bed in her final days, whispering in his ears, one last time, “Ai shiteru…”
And there he was, on the bed he had been confined to for the past few weeks. An old man… “I look so old,” he whispered, as if afraid to wake him.
“Actually, Kurama-kun, I think you look particularly hale for your age,” Botan said firmly.
A giggle almost escaped Kurama’s lips, but he choked it back in time. The door opened softly, and a middle-aged man entered the room. He padded noiselessly to the bed and leaned over the still figure. “Otousan?” he whispered.
“Shinobu,” Kurama said, softly.
“Come on, Kurama, we should go,” Botan said, tugging on his sleeve.
“Otousan… Iie… Otousan!”
“Yes, Botan. We should go,” Kurama said, staring as the man grasped his father’s shoulders. “Otousan!”
When Kurama turned to her, his eyes were bright. She took his hand and he closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the sun was beating down on them and their half-eaten ice-creams were melting on the pavement.
“What happens now?” he asked her.
“There will be a moment of transition back to your youko self. It will be cold, and dark, and you will be alone, but it will last only a moment. When you wake up, you will be in the Makai.”
He was silent. She could not tell from his expression what he was thinking.
“You know, the funny thing is…” he said, slowly, “I think I’m going to miss Minamino Shuuichi. A lot. I couldn’t stand being me sometimes, if I can recall those days correctly.”
“You will still be you when you are a youko again, Kurama.”
“I – guess.” He looked at his feet and brushed a stray strand of red hair from his face. “But the thing is… I like me so much better when I’m Shuuichi.” He looked up at her and the expression in his eyes was sad.
She didn’t know what to say.
He stood up, and extended a hand to her. “Do you mind if we walk?”
“No, of course not.” They wandered down the street, each lost in their own thoughts. A few moments later, Botan looked up, and her eyes lit up. “Oh, look, Kurama-kun. It’s the Yukimura ramen shop!”
Kurama glanced at the shop, and smiled. Then his eyes widened. Sitting at a table inside the shop was a group of the strangest people he had ever seen. A brown-haired girl was hitting a boy over the head with a wok, while in another corner, a fight had broken out between a carrot-topped youth and a short guy with a white starburst in his spiky black hair. A redhead was trying to separate the two, while another boy sat quietly sucking on a pacifier. The boy looked up and saw him. He turned to the others and said something to them. They all looked at him through the glass window of the shop and waved, smiling happily.
He smiled too, a little, and lifted his hand in acknowledgement. He felt a touch on his arm. He looked down and saw Botan. “Botan,” he said.
She slipped her arm into his and drew him away. In their wanderings, they returned to the park. It was evening, and the park was quite crowded, people venturing out from their little celluloid worlds to enjoy the last remains of the day.
They sat under a tree. Kurama leaned against the trunk, folding his hands in his lap. The trees whispered around him, and in the distance he could hear the sound of voices raised in laughter. If he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine the sun smiling down on him, reaching with slender fingers to caress his brow.
What a beautiful day this was.
“Botan.” She turned to see him stretching out his hand to her.
“Are you sure, Kurama?”
She reached out to take his hand.