A/N: Another popular trope of anime is the infamous “Beach Episode.” So of course I wrote my own. If you’ve followed the blog for a while, this chapter may seem familiar. I shared an excerpt of this for a prompt a ways back, but hey now you have more context! So much fun and backstory in this one.
Chapter 12: Interlude – Ali
A soft light warmed Ali’s face and the smell of Kurama’s roses greeted her when she awoke. There was a weight on her, but it comforted rather than restrained her. She tugged the blanket tightly to her chest and inhaled deeply, never happier to be in a bed. They had won. She knew they could do it.
Kurama stirred at the sound of her movement and she poked her head up to look down the length of the bed. He was seated on the chaise lounge far more comfortably than she had left him there what seemed a lifetime ago. She smiled. “Morning.”
He stood and walked to the side of the bed. “Good morning,” he greeted her. “Sleep well?”
She nodded, burrowing her head back into the fluffy pillow. She would never complain about a bed being too soft ever again. “How long was I out?” she asked.
“You slept all day yesterday.” She bolted halfway up to her elbows and gaped at him. Kurama chuckled. “Given your excessive use of energy following your detainment, I’m more surprised you’re already awake.” His smile warmed her and she dropped herself back into the bed.
“I guess I owe you several breakfasts now,” she grinned. He laughed and she swung her legs over the side of the bed, rejuvenated and ravenous. “I could use several breakfasts actually,” she chuckled as she took his arm.
“I’m sure the staff will prepare you a buffet if you ask them,” he teased.
She pondered that for a moment. How much could she impose on them? Her stomach yelled at her to ask for whatever she could get her hands on. She glanced down at her belly to tell it to be quiet when she realized she was not in her own clothes. She looked up at Kurama, her cheeks flushing. “Uh, this is not what I was wearing when I passed out,” she stammered.
He laughed. “No, it’s not,” he confirmed. “Your clothes were dirty and battle worn when we brought you back so Botan and one of the other ferry girls changed you into something more comfortable while we were debriefing Koenma.”
She sighed relief. She wasn’t prudish, but there were certain expectations of propriety after all. She felt far less vulnerable knowing she was well taken care of while she had been unconscious. She smiled. “I’ll be sure to thank her when I see her,” she said.
He nodded and they continued downstairs for breakfast. He had been correct in his assumption that the staff would feed her as much as she required. She wasn’t sure how much of it was Koenma informing them she would need to regain her energy and how much was simply them executing their duties, but after her fourth bowl of rice and salmon she stopped caring. They kept bringing out bowls of miso soup and rice and plates of fried eggs.
Kurama only had a standard helping, and regaled her with the tale of Hitokiri’s demise as she continued to eat. She grinned smugly to hear how Hiei had evaporated the bastard and made a mental note to thank him personally. Kurama also told her of the debriefing and of Koenma’s plans for her future.
“He said what?” Ali coughed as she inhaled an errant grain of rice and almost dropped her chopsticks.
Kurama nodded. “He knows you are unhappy here and thinks you should be allotted a measure of freedom.”
She bit the inside of her cheek and stirred the remaining rice with her chopsticks. The estate was nice. It was luxury she’d never before experienced. It wasn’t that she was unhappy. She’d barely had time to enjoy it, after all. Dark thoughts came with that realization and she shook them away.
“That will be nice,” she said. Her stomach fluttered at the thought of going to school. A normal life. It was within reach. “When do I move?” she asked, shoveling another pile of rice into her mouth.
“We can go this morning, if you like,” he answered. “Koenma’s already made all the arrangements. The apartment, the school, it’s all ready for you.”
Her skin tingled. She fought the urge to leap from her seat and run upstairs to pack her paltry belongings. “Sounds great!” she exclaimed. Kurama chuckled as she inhaled the rest of her breakfast. She wasn’t going to be able to sit still until she saw her new home. “Is it close enough we can walk there?” she inquired. She had too much energy to be cooped up in a car.
Kurama grinned. “It’s quite a ways.”
“But can we walk there?” she stressed. The two of them weren’t ordinary humans. They could move much faster and she wanted to run.
He got her meaning. “I suppose the fresh air would do you some good,” he laughed.
She beamed and leapt to her feet. “Excellent.” She gathered his dishes as well as her own and took them into the kitchen. The maid fussed that she would have been happy to collect them after they’d gone upstairs, but Ali insisted it was no trouble. She gave the woman a small bow and raced up the stairs to get dressed and collect her scant things.
She’d lost her bag in the ambush in the woods, but it seemed someone had found it and brought it back to her room for her. It was a little dirty, but otherwise undamaged. She retrieved the remaining few articles of clothing from her dresser and stuffed them in with the other half, setting one outfit aside to wear for the day.
She changed out of the pajamas Botan had lent her and folded them neatly on the bed. Her body trembled. Her cheeks were going numb from smiling. Sparing one last glance about the room, she flew down the stairs to meet Kurama to embark on her new journey.
It only took them an hour to run from the relative safety of the estate to the small city of which she was soon to be a resident. Yusuke and Kuwabara were waiting for them when they got to the building. “Welcome to your new home!” the dark haired boy announced, passing over a key.
She unlocked the door and walked through, beckoning them to follow her in. It was quaint. A small kitchenette greeted her past the main entrance hall with an adjoining living room, the single bedroom beyond a sliding door with an attached bathroom. It was perfect.
Kurama helped her unpack her clothes and put them in her dresser. The other boys were lounging in the living room when they finished. “Well,” said Kuwabara, “the day is still young. Whattya wanna do now?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Is there a beach nearby? It’s too nice to be inside.”
The best friends looked at each other. Even without her telepathy she could read their faces. They would not pass on the opportunity to spend the afternoon with their ladies in swimsuits. She chuckled as Yusuke ran back to his place to call Keiko. Kuwabara used Ali’s phone to call his sister and see if she had an old swimsuit for Ali to borrow. Kurama thought to invite Botan, who was very receptive of the idea. She promised to bring Yukina along, much to Kuwabara’s delight, and to pack a lunch and snacks for the trip.
They all agreed to meet in the park not far from the complex. It just so happened that Hiei had chosen that particular park to nap in. Ali didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to invite him along on their excursion, so when she sensed him drowsing in one of the sakura trees she called out to him.
Kurama grinned slyly as Hiei glared down at her. “What’s going on here?” he demanded.
“We’re going to the beach,” Ali announced. “Wanna come?”
His eyes narrowed further. “And why would I want to do that?”
“Why wouldn’t you want to have fun with your friends?” she persisted.
Hiei glared at Kurama as the redhead stifled a chuckle. Ali ignored it. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the trunk of the tree as he answered her. “I think you have me confused with someone who enjoys wasting time with others.”
Ali was about to retort but Keiko and Yukina arrived with Botan. The shorter blue-haired woman greeted them and seemed surprised to find Hiei lounging up in the tree. “Oh, Hiei, are you coming out with us too?” she asked.
A strange thing happened, at least to Ali’s eyes. Hiei stiffened and turned to look at the woman who spoke. His face softened and the tension left his shoulders. At least until Kuwabara ran to her side and explained that Hiei was just telling them how he had no desire to join them, but it was okay because he, Kuwabara, would keep her safe from the crabs and violent waves.
The dark haired man scowled and dropped from his perch in the tree. “Fine,” he muttered. “Someone ought to take this job seriously.”
Ali failed to contain her excitement as she grabbed his arm and half pulled, half dragged him toward the train station. “Yes! The whole gang is going to the beach!” she exclaimed. Hiei sputtered, but the others laughed and followed after them.
A short train ride later they were setting up mini camps in the sand. Botan divvied out sandwiches for lunch as they all settled in and basked in the afternoon sun. Hiei ventured off, overwhelmed with the crowd that had come. Ali felt a momentary pang of guilt for coercing him along before she turned back to enjoy the company of the rest of her friends.
After a while, the boys ran to the water, calling to the girls to join them. Ali swam for a bit, chatting with Kurama and Shizuru while Yusuke and Kuwabara showed off for Keiko and Yukina. The water was brisk, but refreshing. When Ali began to prune, she excused herself to go for a walk along the shore. There was a rocky overhang a short ways up the beach with a lighthouse atop, beckoning her to come explore. She could see a walking path from the beach up to the beacon, but she decided to climb straight up the small cliff face.
The sea breeze whipped her skirt around her legs as she climbed to the overlook. It carried with it the sounds of her friends laughing and splashing on the beach below. She was grateful no one insisted on coming along with her. Knowing they were within shouting distance put them all at ease. Besides, there had been no new threats on her life since Hitokiri had been defeated, despite Koenma’s insistence that others would try.
With a small grunt, she pulled herself over the rocky top of the point. She smoothed her skirt as she turned around to admire the view. The vastness of the ocean always soothed her, waves glittering in the sun beckoning her to dance with them. She smiled as she watched Yusuke dunk Kuwabara under an oncoming wave, the girls laughing as he came sputtering up and flailed at Yusuke to return the favor. Shizuru shouted at them to stop drowning each other and come play some beach volleyball.
Ali giggled as she watched them argue over teams. Botan volunteered to umpire so they could do three on three. In the end they decided on guys versus girls and Ali had a sneaking suspicion the girls would win out.
Sighing, she settled on the grass near the lighthouse and closed her eyes. The waves crashing below, the shrieks and taunts of the competitive teens, and the late summer sun warming her face were enough to lull her to a sense of calm.
A sudden gust off the sea blew her skirt into her face and she laughed as she wrestled it back down over her legs. She wondered if it had caught the players as well; Keiko was giggling at Yusuke to get the ball out of the water. Kuwabara shouted at him that he was letting it get away and assured Yukina he would retrieve it.
Ali smiled to herself. They were all genuinely good people. She knew she was lucky to have met them and be able to call them friends. She could hardly believe there were others like her, who would want to be her allies and protect her. After the first attempt on her life that cost her father his, she had believed anyone with power like hers would be an enemy.
She wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her chin on her knees. Koenma must have realized that when he had sent Yusuke and Kurama after her. He claimed to know her from before, that he had sent others. Ali wondered if their bones lay scattered at the bottom of the sea with the others who had come attacking. She shivered at that thought. Maybe they had crossed paths with those and had never made it to her.
“If you’re cold, you should head back down where it’s warm,” Hiei’s silky voice startled her out of her thoughts. She nearly jumped out of her skin. She hadn’t even noticed him approach.
Shaking her head she chuckled at herself. Let your guard down just a little and anyone can sneak up on you. Not that Hiei was just anyone. “I’m fine,” she replied. “They were getting a little too loud for me and this looked like a nice perch to observe from afar.”
He stared down his nose at her. He always looked at her so skeptically. Ali tried not to let it bother her, but she really wanted to know what his problem was. Ever since the fight at the fort he’d strengthened his mental barriers to keep her at bay. If she really wanted to, she could smash through them to find out what he was thinking, but she could respect a man’s privacy.
Honestly she wished more people knew how to shield their thoughts. It would be less tiring for her if she wasn’t constantly having to block out the noise. Ambient crowd chatter was bad enough. Coupled with the cacophony of their thoughts it was enough to drive anyone mad. She could filter it out, but it was exhausting. She hadn’t been near so many people at one time in years. It was part of why she wanted to get away as soon as she had moved in.
Another breeze washed over her, blowing her hair off her shoulders and exposing them to the brisk air on the point. Hiei rolled his eyes and removed his cloak. He tossed it to her. “Put it on. We don’t need you catching cold after all this.”
“I’m really okay,” she insisted, the goosebumps on her arms betraying her.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Just put it on,” he ordered. His voice was as cold as the ocean breeze and brooked no argument.
She bristled at being bossed around, but this was not the time to start a fight. He had voluntarily approached her. He had stuck around instead of running off to wherever he spent his days. Maybe he was starting to warm up to her. The last thing she wanted to do was push him away, so she draped the dark cloth over her shoulders. “What about you?” she asked hesitantly.
He blew air out his nose and smirked. “A little wind can’t touch me.” It was a statement of fact, not an act of bravado or boast to impress. If anything, it was a challenge to the wind to try to chill him. He caught her smiling at him and quickly looked away.
She turned her gaze to the sky and pulled the cloak tighter around her. He always turned away from her. She sighed. She wanted to ask him why, but she knew there was no point in pressing him. He probably wouldn’t say anything anyway. “Thank you,” she said.
He said nothing, unless “Hn” counted as speaking, and sat in the shade of the lighthouse. He rested his sword against his shoulder and watched the others down below. Ali couldn’t be sure, but she thought he focused on Yukina more than the others. She felt her cheeks flush and looked away from him.
A sense of longing formed in the pit of her stomach. She couldn’t explain it. She had the strangest feeling of déjà vu seeing him looking like that. She took a deep breath to still her rapidly beating heart. It worked, but not in the way she expected it to.
The smell of his cloak brought back memories of home. It soothed her at first. She closed her eyes and envisioned the little cabin in the mountains she had grown up in. She could almost hear her father behind the house chopping wood for the fire, his bulky muscles driving the axe through every log he placed on the stump.
He would smile at her and invite her to join him. It was a chore to be done; it had never occurred to her as a young girl that her strength was abnormal. Her father smiled whenever she worked alongside him, so Ali would work as hard as she could to draw it out. He tired faster than she did so she would often bring him ice cold lemonade or tea when he began to perspire too much and set herself to finishing the pile before he finished the pitcher.
Sometimes they would go hunting afterwards. He had guns, but he preferred the bow. She took to it quickly and he took pride in her ability to learn. She never missed and they never went hungry. They always left an offering from each kill on the small shrine they had erected in the backyard. Her mother had died shortly after Ali was born and the offerings were to thank the woman for giving her life.
She wanted so much to please her father. He never blamed her for his wife’s death, but Ali had always felt guilty for being the reason he was alone. Never more so than the night he died protecting her. She could still hear him calling out her name.
“Ali! It’s time to go home!”
She opened her eyes to an orange sky. She had been dozing most of the afternoon. She sat up and blinked to orient herself. She was still on the overlook and her friends were calling to her to help them pack up. She waved to them and hollered that she would be right down.
She took the walking path back down. Yusuke and Kuwabara had almost finished packing up the coolers while the girls were folding the beach towels and Kurama was packing up the chairs. They all stopped as she approached them.
Were they mad at her for not helping? For sleeping away the afternoon instead of playing games with them? Ali’s cheeks flushed. “I’m sorry, I should have been down sooner.”
The girls exchanged smirks and giggled. Her face must have revealed her confusion because Kurama cleared his throat and pointed to her attire. “We thought Hiei had left due to boredom,” he stated in an even tone.
Ali glanced down at her arms to find herself still wearing Hiei’s cloak. She hoped they would believe her cheeks were sunburned and not realize she was blushing furiously with embarrassment. “He was just watching from a distance like I was,” she explained. “And the wind was colder up there.”
Again Keiko and Yukina giggled. Kurama and Yusuke shook their heads and finished packing up. They weren’t about to argue with her or press further. They might have been surprised that Hiei had offered her his cloak, but accepted it at face value. The alternative was too bizarre to consider. Kuwabara continued to gape until Shizuru slapped him upside the head and ordered him to start carrying his weight.
As they walked back to the train Ali wondered where Hiei had gone. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep but it surprised her more that he didn’t try to wake her before leaving. She would have given him his cloak back at the least. She pulled it tightly around her and grinned. It smelled familiar. Safe. Surrounded by her new friends, she felt empowered. She no longer feared her hunters.
After they got back to the city, the boys all escorted Ali back to her new home. She insisted she didn’t need all three of them walking her home when Kuwabara mentioned they were staying the night at Yusuke’s in case she had any issues during her first night on her own.
Yusuke rubbed the back of his neck. “Koenma didn’t order it,” he said, “but when my mom heard a young girl moved in alone next door she might have insisted Kuwabara and I keep an eye out for you.” Ali laughed and he sighed. “Actually she also wanted you to have a spare key to our place in case you need anything.”
“That’s not really necessary,” Ali said.
“Yeah, well, ever since I died the woman has become annoyingly motherly,” Yusuke muttered and the other boys chuckled.
Ali stopped and raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you… not alive?”
Yusuke laughed. “No I’m alive alright,” he said. “Thanks to Koenma and Keiko for that one.”
“There’s definitely a story there,” she said with a grin.
He told her how he had surprised Spirit World by sacrificing himself to save the life of a young boy and explained the trial he had to endure in order to get his body back, how his emotions and actions nourished an egg that when it hatched would either guide him back to his body or judge him unworthy and devour his soul. He explained that, according to Koenma, his spirit beast would have devoured his soul if he hadn’t sacrificed it to save Keiko’s life while she protected his body from a fire.
Then it turned out there was another way to save him. His soul’s frequency and his body’s biorhythm were aligned for a brief time and someone who loved him could bring him back. Keiko’s love had given him the life link he needed to be revived, given with a kiss, but he forbade Ali from ever repeating that to anyone.
She didn’t know why it mattered. As far as she could tell, everyone close to them seemed to know of the mutual love between the two teenagers except for Yusuke and Keiko. She glanced at Kuwabara and Kurama and they both shook their heads slightly. Kuwabara made an offhand joke that he could have done it but figured Yusuke would prefer Keiko to him. The taunt devolved into bickering between the two boys. Ali hung back with Kurama, laughing at their arguments for the rest of the walk home.
They bid her goodnight in the hallway and continued to bicker as they entered Yusuke’s apartment. Kurama stayed with her a moment longer. “Are you sure you’ll be alright?” he asked.
Ali smiled up at him. “Knowing you guys are on the other side of the wall? I’ll be just fine.”
He returned her warm smile and took her hand, pressing something hard into it. “Yusuke wasn’t lying. Atsuko wanted you to have a key to their apartment.” Ali looked down at the key. “Don’t hesitate to come over if you need anything.”
She looked back up at him, her vision blurry. She couldn’t believe how much kindness she was receiving since leaving her mountain. She wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her head in his chest. He placed one hand on her head and returned her embrace with the other. “Thanks, Kurama,” she whispered.
“It’s no problem at all,” he replied, releasing her as he did so. “If you’re really alright, you might wish to head in. You have a big day tomorrow after all.”
Ali nodded. “Yes, you’re right.” She unlocked her apartment and waved him goodnight. “I’ll see you tomorrow!” He waved goodbye to her and turned to head over to Yusuke’s.
Ali shut the door of her apartment and locked it behind her. It was her place. This was her home now. Her cheeks hurt from grinning. She shed her clothes, and Hiei’s cloak, and headed to the bath to clean up. It wasn’t as lavish as the one at Koenma’s estate, but it was hers and she reveled in her soak.
She was sitting on her bed brushing her hair an hour later when she heard a noise outside her window. Chuckling to herself she wondered why he didn’t just knock on her door. She got up and leaned out the window. “Hi Hiei, would you like to come in?” She left the bedroom to retrieve his cloak. She wasn’t surprised to find him waiting on the sill when she returned. “Thanks for this,” she said again as she handed it to him. He accepted it without comment. “Can I get you anything? Something to eat maybe?” she asked.
He stared at her with eyebrow raised. “No thanks. I just came for this,” he said, throwing the cloak back over his shoulders and leaping out of her window into the darkening night.
“Goodnight!” she called after him, still grinning to herself. She didn’t know what his problem with her was, but she wasn’t going to let it bother her. She would kill him with kindness if she had to, if it would keep him coming around. She nestled under her covers and turned out the light. As she drifted to sleep, she hoped her dreams would be peaceful.