A/N: I was compelled to write the beach scene from Hiei’s POV as well. I felt both POVs were important to the story, so rather than cut one or the other, I did a sort of mini-recap on the POV switch to start the next chapter before delving deeper into the plot partway through.
Chapter 13 – Interlude: Hiei
There was no escaping her, Hiei realized, as Ali woke him from his slumber to ensnare him in a ridiculous escapade with the rest of the ragtag crew of humans. He might have managed to refuse her had Yukina not come along when she did. He hated how Kuwabara fawned over her, but he knew that if trouble arose the idiot would protect her with his life.
It wasn’t that he expected anything to happen, and it wasn’t that he didn’t trust Yusuke and Kurama to handle anything that came about, but that left them with the other four girls. He sighed. So much for taking some time off.
She surprised him again when she clung to his arm and pulled him to the train station. He glowered at Kurama the entire ride. He could have easily run ahead and met them there rather than waste time clustered among other humans.
He took off as soon as they were settled on their blankets and chairs. He didn’t need to be on top of them the whole day and he’d already spent more than enough time in close quarters with them. The beach curved along a rocky outcropping and there was a building casting shade on top. It was as good a place as any to relax while keeping watch.
There was nothing out of the ordinary to watch, though, and the humid air made him drowsy. His nap had been interrupted for this excursion and his body really craved its rest.
He was awoken some time later by the sound of rocks clattering off the cliff and a muttered curse as Ali pulled herself triumphantly over the edge of the point. Her face was smug as she rearranged her skirt and surveyed the shore below. Hiei ducked behind the lighthouse as she turned and walked toward it.
He paused. What was he hiding for? It wasn’t as though she had come looking for him. She settled in the grass of the sunny side of the beacon. He heard her yelp in surprise as a sudden gust off the sea threw her wardrobe into disarray. His hand had flown to his sword at her cry, but the sight of her tangled in her skirt halted his approach. Her laughter at her own expense stunned him as it echoed in his ears.
He watched, unmoving, as she resituated herself. His mind clung to the sound of her laughter. There was something strange about it. As he watched her face, it struck him. There was a disconnect. She was smiling, but there was a darkness to her eyes, a sadness and pain he recognized easily. How could someone in so much pain laugh so joyously?
Wherever her thoughts were, it was not a pleasant place. She trembled despite the warmth of the afternoon sun. He shook his head and relaxed his grip on his sword. She shouldn’t be alone, but he had no skill in comforting others. “If you’re cold, you should head back down where it’s warm,” he urged her.
Her head whipped around at the sound of his voice. He refrained from sighing aloud. She hadn’t even been aware of his presence. It was a good thing he had decided to stick around. If he had been an enemy looking to harm her, he would have had no trouble. She explained that she just wanted a moment of peace and quiet. He understood the feeling. He began to wonder if he would ever know it again.
Another gust off the water exposed her bare shoulders to the air. He paid no mind to the scars crisscrossing them, but noticed the bumps rise on her skin. She could deny it all she wanted, but the wind was brisk and she was cold. He also had a feeling she wouldn’t return to the others either. He sighed and tossed her his cloak. She attempted to refuse but he ordered her to put it on.
She stiffened, and he expected a fight over it, but she obediently draped it over her shoulders. “What about you?” she asked.
He tried not to laugh as he looked out at the ocean. He was a fire demon born of an ice maiden; temperatures, hot or cold, did not faze him. He wouldn’t even notice a little wind. He turned his smirk to her but was unprepared for her smile. Again he found himself unable to meet her gaze. He heard her sigh before thanking him and settling back against the lighthouse.
Hiei took up a position on the shady side and contemplated what to do about her. The fact that she hadn’t noticed his presence until he’d revealed himself to her gave him confidence that his mental barriers were sufficient to block her from his thoughts, but she still should have been aware of his energy.
Those problems were small compared to the one hanging over his head like a dark storm cloud waiting to erupt. She reminded him of someone he couldn’t quite recall. Her sad smile tugged at his memories. Yukina had worn such a smile when he had found her at the koorime’s village.
He watched her now, laughing as the other girls scored point after point on the remaining members of his team. It was really an unfair matchup. Yusuke and Kuwabara were useless against their women, and the idiot’s personal code of honor wouldn’t allow him to beat a woman, let alone three.
Hiei grinned despite himself. He hated Kuwabara, but for whatever reason, the human boy loved Yukina, and as long as she was happy, Hiei wouldn’t interfere. He watched them play their silly game for so long he almost forgot he wasn’t alone up on the overlook. He poked his head around the building to find Ali curled up on the grass fast asleep.
Her eyes flickered behind her eyelids as she dreamed. He knelt over her, debating whether or not to wake her. She was still wrapped in his cloak, and again he was struck with a feeling of nostalgia. He frowned at his own reaction and shook it off.
The others were beginning to pack everything up, and he had no desire to ride that infernal metal contraption back to the city. He stretched. Let her hold onto the cloak for a while. He could retrieve it later and he wanted to run. The others would come get her if she didn’t return.
His thoughts raced as his feet propelled him back toward the city. The others would arrive eventually, but he wanted to blow off some steam. He hung back in the woods at the edge of the suburbs to go through forms with his sword.
It’s been getting stronger, this power within me. Ali’s voice whispered as he slashed through the air. She’s not the one you want to save. Hitokiri’s words rang as he parried an invisible foe. I think you’re becoming attached. Kurama’s voice in his ears accompanied a feint. He spun and swung, dived and slashed, ignoring their voices as he went through the motions. One day I will kill that person with my own hands.
Hiei nearly dropped his sword. Whose voice was that? It sounded like Ali, but he couldn’t remember her saying it. He tried to picture it, his mind attached her face to it, but he couldn’t recall the setting. She sounded so pained about killing this mysterious person.
The air had gone cold. The sun had set while he worked out, but the chill in his veins had nothing to do with the ambient temperature. He turned to retrieve his cloak when he remembered he’d left it with her. He sheathed his sword and headed towards the city.
He was pleased to discover her apartment was on the end of the building, much as it had been at Koenma’s estate. There was a stand of trees that separated the building from the next one over, and he climbed the one closest to her open window.
Ali sat on the mattress on the floor, combing her hair as it dried. A cross breeze carried her clean scent to his nose. His blood began to race and it took him a moment to get it under control. He cleared his throat to get her attention and her face lit up as she recognized his presence. He didn’t understand why she would be happy to see him.
She came to the open window and greeted him before disappearing into the other room. He knelt on the sill as he waited her return. The room was much smaller than her accommodations at Koenma’s had been. Indeed, the whole apartment wasn’t much bigger than her bedroom at the estate. Her smile when she came back with his cloak told him the arrangement suited her just fine.
“Thanks for this,” she said as she handed it back to him. He quirked an eyebrow as she offered him something to eat as well. He had a feeling she didn’t expect him to accept so he declined and took his leave. He wasn’t hungry, and he had no other reason to stick around.
He returned to his favorite tree in the park and settled on the highest branch that would hold him. He wasn’t tired though, and Ali’s scent on his cloak reminded Hiei of how his blood had raced when he smelled it at her apartment. The moon made her lazy way across the sky as he tried to sort out what was wrong with him.
After a couple hours of internal debate he grew uneasy. He wasn’t getting to sleep any time soon, so he ventured back towards the apartment building. He didn’t know why he should go back there when the others were all there, but he felt compelled to go anyway.
He positioned himself outside her window as he had back at the estate what seemed like ages ago. The light was off and he could make out her small form under the sheet on the bed. She tossed fitfully. Curious, he tried to see into her mind again, thinking maybe her mental defenses wouldn’t be as strong while she dreamt.
He was met with resistance yet again, but this time he got past the first barrier before the nightmare threw him out. Her barriers were strong. He shouldn’t have even been able to see what he had, though the brief glimpse he saw raised more questions than it answered.
She fought Hitokiri. He knew it was Hitokiri, even though the demon looked different. He was somehow more handsome, less evil, and her fight was less a battle of survival and more a sparring match. He wouldn’t have even known it for a nightmare if her face wasn’t so pained as she fought, tears flowing with every punch. Hitokiri easily blocked every blow, his smile almost tender as she attacked him.
Something was different about her, too. To Hiei, she looked as she had in the few short weeks he had known her. But in the dream, the nightmare, he became aware of a wrongness to it. Hitokiri called her out on it. Told her to remember. Transformed into the demon Hiei himself had seen the end to. Do you really think the name those humans gave you is your true name? the monster hissed again.
Hiei watched as Ali sank to her knees. He suppressed the urge to cry out to her to get up, to keep fighting. He knew it would be pointless. It was just a dream. The man was dead. Hiei had seen to that.
The suddenly monstrous Hitokiri embraced Ali and snarled as his jaw unhinged. Like a snake, he began to swallow Ali whole. She screamed and her power spiked as it incinerated the monster, casting Hiei out of her mind as she did so.
Hiei held himself steady in the tree outside her room. She had woken herself up as she cried out. Hiei could sense Kurama stir in the next apartment over. She just had a bad dream, he relayed to the kitsune.
Is she alright? the man answered him, confusion at Hiei’s presence also conveyed in his mental reply.
He wasn’t sure how to answer that. She was unharmed, and would get back to sleep eventually, but there were deeper issues in her mind that would need to be addressed sooner or later. She will be, he replied.
Kurama said nothing, but Hiei could read his skepticism loud and clear. He tuned the man out and leapt to the window. She didn’t seem surprised to find him there. “Did you sense it too?” her voice came to him from the darkness.
She meant the spike of demonic energy. She wasn’t aware it had come from herself. “Yeah,” he said. “Are you alright? I can sense your trembling from here.”
She looked at her shaking hands and laughed uneasily. “I’m fine,” she said bravely, taking a deep breath to calm herself. “I feel like I just had a strange dream, but I can’t remember it.”
Hiei frowned. “Do you have nightmares often?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Sometimes.” She fell quiet for a while. It didn’t make sense. She had been living on her own for quite a while when they had found her, but she also did not come off as a girl who had lived her life in fear. What about Hitokiri scared her so much?
He realized her breathing had slowed. She had fallen back asleep. Hiei sighed. He thought about watching her dream again, to see if he could glean anything further, but her mind rejected him. Her barriers were suddenly stronger after the nightmare, as if to keep the dreams at bay.
Hiei wondered if she had made a conscious effort to fortify her mind, or if it had been purely instinctual. Regardless, they did their job, because she didn’t stir much for the rest of the night.
She was up with the first light, though. Hiei had dozed off towards dawn and the sound of her front door shutting startled him awake. She was in shorts and a sleeveless tank top, her hair pulled up into a pony tail that whipped behind her as she ran past the tree. Where was she going at this hour?
Hiei followed her, convincing himself he was just doing his job as a bodyguard and not chasing after her because she intrigued him. She was certainly fast; he almost broke a sweat just keeping pace. She covered the distance back to the overlook in less time than it had taken them all to ride there the day before.
As she stretched on the edge, the sun broke the horizon to signal the start of a new day. Her skin glistened in the warm light, not unlike the vast water stretching out behind her. Hiei caught himself staring as she pulled her arms over her head, taut muscles in her back straining against the motion. He recalled her fighting at the fort and wondered how he hadn’t noticed them then.
In a flash, her face hardened, eyes darkening before he lost sight of her. In the next instant he found himself on the ground, Ali straddled on his chest pinning his arms above his head. Blinking, she appeared just as confused as he felt. “Hiei?” she gasped. “What are you doing here?” She frowned, her silver-blue eyes piercing. “You should know better than to sneak up on people.”
He was still processing how she had managed to incapacitate him before he could react, her firm grip still holding him against his will. “I didn’t think it was wise for you to be alone so I followed when you left,” he stated, swallowing his bewilderment and turning it to anger. That was an emotion he could deal with. “Do you mind?”
She blinked again and her eyes were more blue than silver. Her face turned red as she apologized and climbed off of him. She turned abruptly and walked back towards the edge of the cliff, her arms folded behind her head.
Hiei stood and straightened his cloak as he stared at her back. Something was different about her this morning. Her energy felt different. The sun shone on her hair, making the brown strands appear almost blonde. He shook his head. “Shouldn’t you be heading back?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she sighed, noting the rising sun as if for the first time. As she turned back to him, her face was soft and her eyes glittered like the water behind her. “Wanna race me?” she asked.
Hiei stared at her for a solid minute. She couldn’t be serious. She seemed to sense his hesitation; her face took on a determined set. He smirked. Why should he back down from a challenge? “How much of a head start would you like?” he taunted.
Her chuckle surprised him as much as her words. “If either of us requires a head start, it’s you.”
He grinned. “Just don’t cry when I win.” He knew he could be back at her apartment before she took a step away from the cliff.
Her eyes sparkled. “Deal.” She returned his grin. “Same goes for you.” He let her give a count. On three, they both took off.
He was pleasantly surprised to find she kept up with him. She managed to keep pace even after he increased his speed. They were neck and neck for a couple kilometers. Then he saw her smirk and she was gone.
She was breathing heavily in the entryway outside of her front door when he arrived panting, just a few seconds after. Her lips parted and spread across her face at the sight of him sweating and also struggling for breath. “No crying, now,” she breathed as she winked at him and entered her apartment.
He was still catching his breath and staring at her door when Kurama emerged from Yusuke’s apartment a few minutes later. The redhead quirked an eyebrow. “Everything alright?” he asked.
Hiei granted him a rare smile. “I hate to admit it, but I am feeling something I haven’t felt in a long time.” He stretched and took a deep breath as he turned away from his friend. “It’s been too long since I’ve had a fresh challenge,” he said as he took his leave.
Kurama would ponder the meaning behind that statement as he made his way to his school. Hiei smirked to himself. Let him. He might have come to a truce with Yusuke, but this feeling was similar to when he’d first fought alongside the detective. He was willing to admit, now, that Ali was an ally, and he found himself feeling uniquely interested in getting to know their new comrade.