Chapter 11 – Victor

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Hiei glowered at the creature before him. He had had enough of being this man’s plaything. He was grateful to the girl for her heroics, although he would never admit it aloud. Still, he could exact a small measure of vengeance for her sake. “You’re going to pay for that,” he announced as he pulled the bandana from his forehead to reveal his third eye.

Hitokiri bared his fangs in an annoyed grimace. “I doubt it, but when I’ve finished with you she certainly will.” He began moving his hands in a strange pattern again and the air around Hiei fluctuated. He was ready for it this time.

Before Hitokiri could wrap the air around him, Hiei lunged at the man and knocked him off his feet. Snarling, Hitokiri rolled back up and leapt at Hiei with a punch of his own. They exchanged several blows before leaping apart. Hitokiri was visibly tiring, his breathing more rapid and he was perspiring more than he had in the whole battle up to this point.

Hiei smirked. As he suspected, the man relied on his tricks to win fights because he lacked the stamina to last long in an all-out physical battle. His Jagan had filled him with a second wind. He decided to end the fight before his opponent could find his. He tore the bandages off his right arm and focused his power on calling his pet.

Hitokiri paled. Good, the bastard knew what was coming. His panicked eyes scanned the rubble strewn rooftop. Hiei didn’t like how his manic expression turned suddenly gleeful. “Go ahead, summon your monster,” he boasted as he extended a beckoning hand in front of him.

Hiei frowned. That air manipulation trick was useless against him now that he knew to expect it and he leapt away to prove it. When he regained his footing he saw Ali dangling unconscious in the air in front of the bastard.

“You’d really be doing Koenma a service, killing her,” he cackled.

Hiei cursed under his breath and suppressed the fire in his arm. He would never see the light of day again if he killed her. “Fine, there are other ways I can kill you,” he snarled and leapt close again, trying to dodge Ali’s unconscious body while throwing punches at her captor.

Hitokiri laughed at his efforts. “You’re just as much a fool as she is,” he proclaimed. “I had hoped this form would remind her who she was and release her but it seems I have my work cut out for me.” His manic laugh rang through the air.

Hiei ignored his riddles. The bastard was just desperate. Hiei could sense it in his movements. Hitokiri made few counterattacks, only dodged Hiei’s fists or pulled Ali close to make him pull his punches. Hiei caught himself blaming her for interfering as much as she had. She shouldn’t have fired that second shot. She wouldn’t have drained herself and could be helping him.

“You’re weak,” Hitokiri spat. “Caring for this worthless bitch. She’s not the one you want to save.” He leered at Hiei. “And you’ll never save her as weak as you are.”

Hiei’s blood boiled. He couldn’t care less about her. But the others did and, specifically, Koenma did. Saving her was one step towards finishing his sentence in the human realm. And she had saved him. He owed her a debt he intended to repay immediately.

Gritting his teeth, he called on his power once more. He would have one shot to get her away from Hitokiri. He needed to be ready to take it when she was out of harm’s way.

Hitokiri reacted to his rising power much as Hiei had anticipated. He stammered and pulled Ali’s body closer to him. Hiei’s rage rose higher. The coward. He couldn’t stand Hitokiri using Ali as a shield. A quick burst of speed put Hiei behind the other demon and he spun and kicked the man into the fence. Hitokiri’s hold over Ali broke and she dropped.

Hiei caught her with his left arm before she fell to the ground. Holding her tightly against his chest, he sent his Dragon of the Darkness Flame spiraling toward the sniveling demon clamoring against the chain links. His dying screams were music to Hiei’s ears. He stared at the shadow of their dead enemy on the fence. There was nothing left of the manipulative creature but ash. The fight was finally over.

Hiei looked down at the girl sleeping in his arms, her bruised face as peaceful as it had been when she snuck away from the estate to rest only a day ago. Hard to believe he had known her such a short time when her resting face already seemed so familiar. They could all rest easy now that Hitokiri was gone.

Soft groaning and a shifting of stone behind him snapped him back to his senses and he turned towards the sounds. Yusuke was crawling out of the rubble of the collapsed staircase as Kuwabara and Kurama rubbed sore muscles and returned to their feet. “Alright, where’d that prick go? I got a bone to pick with him,” Yusuke announced.

Kurama chuckled as he gestured to Hiei with Ali in his arms. “It would seem we missed all the excitement,” he said.

“Aw man, really?” Kuwabara whined.

“None can stand against the Dragon of the Darkness Flame and live to tell the tale,” Hiei boasted with a smirk.

“How’d you get out of that air hold he had us all in?” Yusuke asked. “I’ll admit, that surprised me. Can’t believe he knocked me out though. Must have hit my head harder than I realized.”

Hiei bristled at the question. He didn’t want to admit that he had been in a bind. “I figured it out,” he muttered.

“Well, mission accomplished,” Kuwabara yawned, stretching as he did so. “Probably best to get sleeping beauty there back to Koenma.” He and Yusuke turned to leave and began bickering about whether or not they would bother going to their remedial classes.

Kurama extended his arms towards Hiei. “I can take her if you like.” He shrugged then added, “Unless you want to carry her.”

Hiei passed Ali over to Kurama for the second time in less than a day. “Take her. I couldn’t care less how she gets back.”

Kurama’s gaze pierced him. “You know, I wasn’t exactly unconscious for your fight.” Hiei stiffened again and Kurama chuckled. “Oh don’t worry, I would never impugn your honor by downplaying your achievement. You just continue to surprise me.”

Hiei glowered at his friend. “Don’t make me laugh. I was just doing my job.” He folded his arms across his chest as he turned his scowl to Ali. “In case you’d forgotten, the mission is to protect her.”

Kurama grinned. “Oh I know full well our mission.” He turned his tender smile down to the girl asleep in his arms. “I just think you are becoming attached to it against your own advice.”

Hiei scoffed. “Please. I’m not driven emotionally like you humans.”

Kurama shrugged again. “Perhaps not. But I know you, Hiei. Her power intrigues you.” His eyes sparkled. “It reminds you of home.”

Kurama had a point. There was something reminiscent of the Makai in her aura, but her energy was definitely human. It was familiar in another way, but he couldn’t quite place it. His eyes followed her as Kurama turned to join the other boys. Attached? Him? It was laughable.

He returned to the estate with the others, at the insistence of Kurama, who reminded him Koenma would want to speak with each of them. Hiei would have just as soon disappeared for a few days where even Kurama wouldn’t be able to bother him but like everything else in his life of late it was going to have to wait.

Kurama took Ali up to her room and left her with a teary-eyed Botan. Hiei wasn’t convinced the ferry girl alone would suffice as protection but he let it go. Let the girl be someone else’s problem for a while.

Koenma’s estate had a convenient doorway that led directly to the Reikai for easy access. Relatively easy. Security was better on that doorway than the rest of the entire estate. Once again Hiei debated leaving. Once again Kurama gave him a look that made Hiei wonder if the kitsune wasn’t also a telepath.

He took some comfort in the annoyance of Yusuke and Kuwabara. He wasn’t the only one physically exhausted from their battles, despite being the one who did most of the work. They were all impatient and a touch irritable.

Koenma personally came to speed up the process. “Gentlemen, I appreciate you doing your jobs,” he said to the guards as he approached, “but these are my strongest fighters and if you delay them any longer they might just harm you.”

Yusuke cracked his knuckles for effect. Kuwabara leered in what Hiei assumed he felt was a threatening manner. He wouldn’t have wasted his time on such low level minions, but if it would facilitate entry, he could at least intimidate better than Kuwabara. He casually rubbed his thumb along the hilt of his sword, reminding them he could unsheathe it before they could blink.

The gatekeepers stammered about protocol and regulations but they couldn’t really argue with the prince. Koenma waved them through and led them back to his office where he sat at his desk with a deep sigh. “So? Is our problem taken care of?”

“Yup.” Yusuke flopped unceremoniously into one of the chairs decorating the office. “She’s napping away back at your little mansion.”

“And Hitokiri?”

Yusuke yawned. “Hiei saw to it. That guy won’t be bothering her again.”

“Bastard could control the air,” Kuwabara grumbled. “Had us all strung up like Christmas lights and we couldn’t do a thing.”

Hiei scoffed. “Some of us were able to get out of it.”

Kuwabara frowned. “Yeah, how did you do that anyway?”

Koenma raised an eyebrow. “You got out of it?”

Shit. Hiei hadn’t wanted to tell them Ali had saved him from being killed. Kurama gave him a sly grin and he sighed. “He had me in a tight spot that apparently required a lot of concentration. The girl distracted him and he dropped me.”

“Ali did?” Yusuke asked for confirmation. Hiei nodded. “You know,” he said turning back to Koenma, “she isn’t exactly helpless. She can fight just as well as any of us. When we were fighting our way to Hitokiri I thought she was gonna accidentally kill Kuwabara or Kurama.”

“Yeah, she’s really strong!” Kuwabara praised.

Hiei was grateful that Yusuke had changed the subject. He hoped it meant he wouldn’t have to explain further.

“Interesting.” Koenma maintained a neutral smile. “Anyway, I’m glad she’s safe.”

“Do you still feel she requires protection?” Kurama inquired. “Or is this mission complete?”

“I’m loathe to lose track of her again,” Koenma admitted, “regardless of her own capabilities. But she’s clearly not at ease at my estate and is likely to give us the slip again if we force her to stay there. And Hitokiri is not the only one drawn to her power. I am certain there will be others.”

The humans all exchanged wary glances. Hiei kept his gaze focused on Koenma. “So what are we gonna do?” Kuwabara asked.

The toddler sighed. “Against my better judgment, I’m going to move her to your apartment complex, Yusuke, and enroll her at your school.”

The detective sprang to his feet. “What?”

“It’s the best thing to do,” Koenma said as if to convince himself. “Summer classes are ending and the new semester starts soon. This way she can be close to you while maintaining her freedom.”

Kuwabara flinched and glanced at Yusuke. “Speaking of classes…”

The detective paled. “Keiko is gonna kill us if we skip.” He turned his nervous face to Koenma. “What time is it? Can we make it?”

Koenma chuckled. “It’s not strictly allowed, but I’ll bring up a portal to drop you off near the school. You earned that much tonight.” Hiei rolled his eyes as the two boys scampered through the portal the instant it was viable. He couldn’t understand how a human woman with no powers could intimidate Yusuke so much.

Kurama bowed. “I’ll return to the estate and relieve Botan of her duties.” Hiei followed him as he turned to leave.

“Hiei, a moment please,” Koenma called. Hiei gave Kurama a small nod urging him to go on ahead. After he was gone, Hiei turned to Koenma and stared him down. The pint sized ruler gestured to one of the chairs in front of his desk, though he knew Hiei wouldn’t take one. “Hiei, there’s something you aren’t telling me.”

Hiei set his jaw stubbornly. Was everyone suddenly a psychic now? “There’s nothing for me to tell,” he muttered. He had a feeling Ali didn’t want the extent of her abilities revealed and until he could figure out how to keep her out of his head he wasn’t going to divulge her secrets. “Ask her when she wakes up.”

Koenma slammed his fists on his desk. “Hiei, this is important. Do you forget who I am? When I ask you a question I expect a real answer out of you. Now tell me, what did she do?”

Hiei eyed him skeptically. He’d never seen the man lose his temper before. Koenma also never flouted his position like that. Hiei folded his arms and leaned against the chair. “You don’t need to yell. It wasn’t any special thing.” He met Koenma’s piercing gaze and shrugged. “She’s like Yusuke and the idiot. She can channel her spirit energy into a physical form. It’s not that surprising, given that she’s a psychic.”

Koenma continued to stare him down but his face softened. “And what form did it take?”

Hiei tightened his grip on his arms. “Is it relevant?”

“Yes.”

Hiei considered him a moment. Koenma insisted he had no idea who she was but he had theories and speculations. Hitokiri had claimed she was not who she thought she was because she had forgotten her past. Could this really be another piece to the puzzle?

Hiei shook his head. He didn’t care as long as it meant the end of their mission grew nearer. “It was a bow,” he answered. “I’m not sure if it was the arrow she sent his way or the sunrise blinding him that caused him to lose focus, but either way she distracted him long enough for me to regain the upper hand.”

Koenma folded his hands in front of him and rested his chin on steepled fingers. He contemplated Hiei’s words but gave nothing away. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, he nodded. “Thank you. Was that so hard?” Hiei bit back a retort. “If there’s nothing else, then you can take some time off as well. I imagine you’re feeling rather suffocated with the constant companionship you’ve been forced to endure of late and I have some business to attend to.”

Hiei narrowed his eyes again. “And the girl?”

Koenma quirked an eyebrow. “What about her?”

“She’s still in danger, isn’t she?” he snapped.

“Kurama is with her and she’ll soon be near Yusuke and Kuwabara,” Koenma intoned. “If you want to stick around, by all means. I just figured you’d be itching to get away by now.”

Hiei stiffened. Of course he wanted to be away. He had wanted nothing to do with this mission from the start. “I don’t need your permission to do as I please.”

Koenma laughed. “Technically, you do. But we can continue to operate as though you don’t.” He smirked. “If we need you, I’ll send Kurama for you.”

Hiei glowered at him and took his leave. He sprinted past the gatekeepers to the estate, not wanting to deal with them again. He paused at the hallway that led to the upstairs bedrooms, considered telling Kurama he was leaving and decided against it. He made his way to the front of the cavernous house, the walls pressing in on him as he hurried to the main door.

Koenma was wrong. He had almost been suffocated by Hitokiri. This feeling was not suffocation. He didn’t know what it was, but it felt worse. If he went up to that room, if he stopped to talk to Kurama and saw her, he felt her power would hold him and not let him leave.

A/N: I get a lot of use out of portals in this story. Technically, in the canon, only spirits can travel to Spirit World (either as ghosts or as astral projections) but there were instances of portals/holes in the barrier that allowed passage between the human and demon worlds so I extended that concept to spirit world as well. Admittedly, it was mostly for my own convenience, but it is a fun plot device to play around with.

Next Chapter: Interlude – Ali ->

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