Ali’s chest sank as the dark haired young man stormed out of the office. She wasn’t sure what she had done to upset him but she was certain he was angry. Yusuke gave her an encouraging smile. “Don’t let Hiei get you down,” he said.
Kuwabara nodded. “Yeah, he’s always doing stuff like that. He’s a sarcastic little jerk. Emphasis on the ‘little.’” His mouth broke his face into a wide oafish grin. Yusuke and Koenma sighed in exasperation while Kurama hid his grin behind his hand.
Their eyes all widened when she began to laugh. Yusuke plainly did not approve of her encouraging Kuwabara’s puns, but even he gave a soft chuckle as the others joined her. The awkward atmosphere left from Hiei’s abrupt departure dissipated with their giggles.
“What’s so funny in here?” Botan asked, appearing from yet another hidden door.
Kuwabara opened his mouth to repeat his joke, but Koenma cut him off. “We’re all just getting acquainted with each other,” he said.
“Oh. Well if the introductions are over, the boys won’t mind if I steal Ali away.”
“Where are you stealing her to?” Yusuke asked.
“Shopping!” Ali exclaimed. “I came with the clothes on my back, and they weren’t in the best shape. Since I’m going to be here awhile, I’m gonna need new clothes.” Kuwabara and Yusuke gave her a once-over, taking in the new clothes she was already wearing. “I can’t take all of Botan’s clothes,” she said.
“Plus, getting out of the house will do you some good,” Botan added.
“I’ll come with you.” Kuwabara folded his arms across his chest and nodded as though it were the most obvious solution.
“What?” the other men exclaimed in unison.
“You hate shopping,” Yusuke added.
“No I don’t,” Kuwabara waved him off. “Besides, we’re supposed to be protecting her aren’t we?” His bold honesty elicited another giggle from Ali.
“You better protect your head from my fist,” Yusuke muttered under his breath as he reached to push his sleeve up his arm.
“We’ll all go!” Kurama stepped between Yusuke and his best friend. “Unless you have a better way for us to get to know our new friend and help her get settled into her new life?”
“I think it’s a splendid idea,” Koenma smirked.
Yusuke sighed in defeat. “Alright, alright. Let’s get going.”
Koenma provided Ali with some funds to cover their expenses. He sent them all back through the portal to his human world mansion and had a car pick them up to take them to the shopping center. Once again Ali was stunned by the luxury Koenma had provided her. She stifled a chuckle as Yusuke wavered between excitement at being chauffeured and complaints that Koenma had never before given them as much a five yen coin. Botan chided him for behaving like a child, but she grinned at his antics.
They spent the afternoon walking in and out of various stores at the mall. After leaving the fourth store, Kurama and Kuwabara volunteered to go get everyone some drinks from the food court. Botan headed towards the back of the next shop while Ali hung near the front. Yusuke fidgeted in the main thoroughfare, debating sitting and waiting for the girls to come out, or follow them inside. Koenma’s warning echoed in his mind and he sighed as he moved closer to the shop, trying his best not to hover while still being an effective bodyguard.
“So, uh, whatcha got there?” he stammered.
Ali bit the corner of her lip. “I can’t decide if I want to try these jeans or that skirt,” she said, more to herself than to him. She held one article in each hand. After a moment of glancing back and forth between them, she smiled up at him. “What do you think?”
“Me?” He rubbed the back of his neck and laughed nervously. “I honestly have no idea. This isn’t exactly my area of expertise.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “Try them both?”
She looked back at each piece. There was no reason not to try them both. “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” She smiled at him again. “Thanks Yusuke!”
Across the hall, a group of girls emerged from another shop. There was a tall young woman with long brown hair, a short woman with shoulder length brown hair, and a shorter woman with hair as blue as Botan’s. The tall woman lit a cigarette but stopped before she got it to her mouth. “Hey Keiko, didn’t you say Yusuke had important business to attend to today?”
“Yeah, that’s what he said. Why?” the shorter girl asked.
The older girl pointed with her cigarette to where Ali and Yusuke were standing. “Oh dear,” the blue-haired girl muttered as Keiko stormed over.
Ali stepped to the side just in time for Keiko to slap Yusuke across the face. “Yusuke, you jerk! So, this is the “business” you had to attend to?” She hit him again. “You’re such an ass, Yusuke Urameshi!”
The detective stammered, slow to process what had her so upset. He glanced from her, to Ali, to her friends, before registering the cause of her anger. “It’s not what it looks like,” he said as he caught Keiko’s arm before she could hit him again.
Her eyes were wet, face red. “Not what it looks like?” She glared at him. “Of course not. What does it look like?” Her voice wavered.
“Keiko, I swear, if you’ll just let me explain.”
She pulled her arm from his grasp. “No Yusuke, I don’t want to hear it.” She swallowed a sob and turned back to her friends.
“Is that Keiko I hear?” Botan wandered back to the front of the shop. “Oh, Shizuru and Yukina are here as well! Good afternoon ladies!”
“Hi Botan,” they replied.
Keiko blinked away her confusion. “Botan’s here too?” She looked back at Ali. “So who is this?”
Ali suppressed a giggle. So this was the famous Keiko that could scare Yusuke more than any monster. “I’m so sorry to cause a misunderstanding,” she said with a bow. “I hope Yusuke wasn’t too late for your date the other night. Really it was Koenma’s fault for sending him after me, but I tried to make sure he returned in time.”
“Ali is staying in a safe house under Koenma’s protection,” Botan explained. “All she had were the clothes on her back so we all came to get her some essentials.”
Ali nodded. “Koenma assigned them to protect me today. That’s the only reason he’s here with me today and not you.” She pressed her palms together and brought them up in front of her face in supplication. “Please don’t be angry.”
Keiko’s face softened. Botan’s presence eased her jealousy and she readily accepted the explanation. Keiko bowed in apology. Ali liked her straight away. “I shouldn’t have overreacted,” she said with a chuckle.
“I’ll say,” Yusuke muttered. “Stupid Kuwabara dragging me along.”
“Kazuma is here?” the other blue-haired girl piped up.
“Yukina! My princess!” The ginger’s voice rang out down the hall as he rushed to her side. Ali and Keiko laughed.
He was halted by the tall woman’s fist on his head. “Idiot. Don’t go running at people.”
He rubbed his head. “Oh sis, didn’t see you there.”
“Hello Shizuru, Yukina, Keiko.” Kurama caught up to them, his face serene and eyes dancing with amusement.
The remaining tension evaporated from the group as the pleasantries were exchanged. Keiko helped Ali pick out a couple of outfits while Shizuru, Yukina, and Botan cheered her on as she modeled for them. At first she blushed with embarrassment, but by the time she finished she had begun to enjoy striking outlandish poses for their amusement.
It was strange to be so at ease among relative strangers, but they all felt like home to her. Yusuke and his friends might have simply been her bodyguards, but they made her feel like she belonged. Like she was welcome among them, not just a mission.
Well, welcome among most of them. As they finished up their shopping and let the guys blow off steam at the arcade, she couldn’t help wondering why their fourth member was so hostile towards her. Kurama noticed her standing off on her own and walked over to join her. His smile stifled her laments. “Everything okay Miss Ali?”
She hoped her return smile didn’t look forced; she was simply tired from the day’s excitement. “I’m fine,” she said. He looked down at her, eyebrow slightly raised. She chuckled. “Really, everything is okay.” Forty eight hours she’d known him and somehow he could already read her like a book. “I was just thinking about your friend, Hiei.”
Kurama nodded. “Ah, yes. He can be a difficult person to get to know.” His smile as he watched Yusuke and Kuwabara battle in a shooting game told her there was a story there. “He’ll come around. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”
He turned his face back to her and his eyes crinkled as he grinned encouragement. She stared at him, a hazy thought tugging at the dark recesses of her mind. There was something familiar in his gaze, in the way he carried himself, and even in his smell. What was his cologne? Something that made her feel safe and nostalgic simultaneously. A flash of white and silver crossed her mind, but she had no idea what it meant. “Kurama.”
“Yes?” He was still looking at her, although his expression had changed. “Ali, are you sure you’re okay?”
She shook her head and the thought vanished. She felt her cheeks flush as she realized her hand had been halfway to his face. She snatched it back and gripped her bags more tightly. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “Just tired.”
His fingers rested lightly on her shoulder. “We can go back to the mansion if you’ve had enough.”
She didn’t really want to return just yet, but she couldn’t deny she was exhausted. She sighed. “It’d probably be for the best.”
They returned to the group. Botan agreed that it was late enough they should head back and went to fetch the driver. Kurama offered to return with them as an escort while Shizuru said she would take Yusuke and her “idiot brother” home when they were done. Her flippancy lifted Ali’s spirits and she smiled again as she waved goodbye to her new friends.
She avoided staring at Kurama on the ride back to the mansion. There was something different about him. Something she had also sensed about Hiei when she’d met him earlier in the day. It was a similar feeling to some of the pursuers she’d evaded while on the run, something dangerous. Except, these men didn’t feel dangerous.
Well, Kurama didn’t. She stole a glance at him as he and Botan talked amicably about their adventures. His laugh brought her smile out again. She decided she not to dwell on it. These were her allies for the foreseeable future. She could trust them.
He noticed her smiling at him. “Feeling better?” His grin retained the proper level of friendliness.
Ali nodded. “I’m sure I’ll be back to normal after a warm meal and another good night’s sleep.”
“Normal has changed for you,” Botan reminded her. “I imagine there’s nothing truly “normal” about your situation.”
“No, I suppose not,” Ali laughed mirthlessly. Botan and Kurama surreptitiously exchanged glances. She was sure they thought she didn’t notice, but she wasn’t about to call them out on it. Instead she voiced something else that was bothering her. “Why did Koenma assign you all to me if he has guards patrolling his estate?” She frowned. “Seems a bit odd to give me bodyguards and then not have them around where I’m staying.”
Kurama laughed. “Forgive me,” he said when he got his laughter under control. “I’m not solely your escort tonight.” His warm smile set her stomach to doing flips. “I’ll be staying at the estate with you tonight. We are still working out the details, but it appears as though we’ll be more or less protecting you in shifts.”
She half turned away from him and narrowed her eyes. “So I really am going to be under 24 hour surveillance?”
He shrugged and looked to Botan for help. She scrambled to assure Ali that was not the intent. “You will be well protected at all times,” she reiterated, “but you will have freedom to move about the estate as you wish.”
Ali turned her gaze out the window as the car pulled up the long driveway to the house. It sat at the front of several acres of land, but compared to her mountain forest it was stiflingly small. The protective barrier that bordered it seemed to close in on her. She had been so exhausted and distracted the first night she hadn’t really noticed it.
She refrained from sighing aloud. She was being fickle. This was a safe place and she would be surrounded with strong people. She wouldn’t have to worry every night if she would be found. A smile tugged at the corners of her lips. She could stand to let her guard down a little bit while she had allies at her back.
Folding her arms across her chest, she cocked her head to one side and in a mockingly exasperated tone said, “Well I guess you can stay at my house tonight. But if you snore, I’m kicking you out.”
A/N: I always felt that the girls of YYH didn’t get enough screen time. Granted, it’s a fighting anime geared for older teen boys, and Yusuke was the protagonist of the series, but that didn’t mean the ladies couldn’t be just as cool. I loved the idea that they all hang out together whenever Yusuke and the boys are off on missions, and thought this would be a fun way to introduce them to Ali. I also felt Ali should have some healthy female relationships in addition to her new friendships with her bodyguards so I made sure to bring in the girls whenever I needed to write some fluff and just have fun letting Ali be a normal girl for a bit. And I love writing them, so you can be sure there will be several other ensemble scenes featuring them.