Ali caught Kurama’s leg as he joined the brawl with her and Yusuke and Kuwabara, noting, with mild disappointment, as Hiei left without another word. She sighed inwardly before returning her attention to the battle royale raging around her, putting him out of her mind as she focused on the rush of adrenaline flowing through her as she fought off three attackers at once.
Kurama was meticulous in his strikes, patient and precise, and very fast. Yusuke was haphazard by comparison, lunging and swinging almost without thought, though he appeared to be having as much fun as she was. Kuwabara swung harder at Yusuke and Kurama than he did her, but he had at least started hitting back when she threw her fists in his direction.
An hour later, they all sat in a circle breathing heavily, sweating profusely, and laughing as they taunted each other over weak hits or ill-timed kicks.
“Damn, Kurama, I didn’t know you sweat,” Yusuke teased.
The redhead chuckled as he mopped his brow with the bottom of his shirt. “Well, you know, full out brawling isn’t exactly my style,” he crooned.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you fight that hard, even in your battles in the Dark Tournament.”
Ali halted mid-stretch with one arm pulled over her head. “Dark Tournament?”
“We were dragged into this martial arts tournament against a bunch of nasty demons,” Kuwabara explained. “Kicked all their asses, but it was tough.”
“Speak for yourself,” Yusuke laughed. “You didn’t have to fight Toguro.”
Ali frowned. “You mentioned that name the day you found me,” she said. She tried to picture a fighter the strong young man would rather fight than face the ire of his girlfriend, but could not.
“He was a very powerful enemy,” Kurama said simply as he offered her a hand to her feet. “One who had his sights set on fighting Yusuke to prove he was the strongest. Needless to say, Yusuke prevailed.”
They told her of their trials as she packed up her bag, stowing her sword back in its tree. Kuwabara explained how they had initially met the Toguro brothers when they rescued Yukina from Tarukane’s mansion and thought they had defeated them then. Yusuke told her of how it had been a farce and they were really interested in luring him to the Dark Tournament so they could face each other in the arena. His master, an old psychic woman named Genkai, was Toguro’s old partner and had won the Dark Tournament with him years ago. When Yusuke took her final test, and the last of her power, Toguro killed her before the final day of the tournament.
“So after Kuwabara faked his death and Yusuke killed Toguro, we used our prize to wish Genkai back to life,” Kurama explained as they reached the portal back to Spirit World.
“You weren’t kidding,” Ali sighed. “Danger really does seem to find you,” and she smirked.
Koenma was pleased at the results of their team workout. He did not seem surprised to hear Hiei had run off halfway through, but suggested that they try to make the session a regular habit. He advised Kurama to at least try to encourage Hiei to return, but admitted he did not expect him to go to each one.
“But you all seem tired, so I won’t keep you any longer,” Koenma smiled. “Go, get some rest. I’ll make the arrangements so you can get to Ali’s secret training grounds without having to come here first, so promise me you’ll utilize them.”
Yusuke and Kuwabara exchanged a petulant glance but Ali jumped on their shoulders before they could protest. “Thank you very much, Koenma, sir. We definitely appreciate it.” Kurama chuckled behind her.
Koenma grinned. “Keep these hooligans in line for me, Ali.”
She beamed and saluted as she dropped from the boys shoulders. He waved them through another portal back to the human world, this one dropping them out near the edge of the city. A short while later Yusuke and Ali bid the other boys goodbye as they headed their separate ways.
“Welcome home!” Atsuko greeted them as they came up the stairs into the hallway.
“What, you aren’t out at the bar?” Yusuke scoffed. Ali refrained from kicking him.
Atsuko scowled at him. “I just thought maybe you’d like some food when you got home so I cooked you a nice dinner, but if you don’t want it…” she trailed off and smiled at Ali. “Ali dear, you are more than welcome to come eat his share.”
“Hold on, I didn’t say I wouldn’t eat it.”
Ali laughed. “I would be happy to join you for dinner Mrs. Urameshi,” she bowed. “I’ll just get washed up first.” She waved as she shut her door behind her, giggling to herself as Yusuke picked up his argument with his mother again as they went into their apartment.
The hot water of the shower washed away her fatigue along with the sweat and dirt from her afternoon skirmishes. There were a couple welts beginning to darken on her hips and shoulders from blows the boys had landed, but they would heal quickly.
Twenty minutes later she found herself in Yusuke’s apartment around a table with him and Atsuko, eating a home cooked meal prepared by a loving mother, laughing as mother and son continued to bicker. Yusuke tried to prove how much he appreciated her meal by shoveling more into his mouth with each bite than was proper. Atsuko chided him for eating so messily in front of a guest and apologized to Ali for her son’s rudeness. Ali simply giggled at their antics and eventually they settled in to eating normally, grinning at each other as they did so. Yusuke might complain about his mother’s newfound protectiveness, but he couldn’t hide his love from Ali’s awareness.
Ali enlisted Yusuke’s help with the dishes before thanking them for inviting her and excusing herself for the night. She wasn’t quite tired enough to go to bed however, and decided to go for a light jog before sleep. She found herself at the overlook a short while later.
The ocean calmed her. She was grateful her new home wasn’t too far from it. The moon was just breaching the horizon, a fat crescent returning her smile across the water. She sat on the precipice and swung her feet as she watched the waves roll onto the shadowy shore below.
After a while she became aware that she was not alone. She really wished he wouldn’t do that, but she suspected Hiei wasn’t used to being noticed either. “Why didn’t you stay and fight with us?” she asked.
A pause, then a grunt came from behind her. She could almost see him shaking his head. “I have better things to do than play with you people,” Hiei scoffed.
“Mhmm.” She tilted her head back to look at him. He appeared to be hanging off the earth from that angle. “Koenma wants you there with us, you know. He asked Kurama to make sure of it whenever possible.” She grinned as Hiei flinched, turning her gaze back to the sea.
“What are you doing out here?” he demanded.
She rolled her eyes, ignoring the unspoken “alone” at the end of his query. “I could ask you the same question,” she said.
He grunted again. It might have been laughter; she couldn’t tell with him. “I’m not the one being hunted.”
“So, because I have a target on my back, I can’t enjoy a peaceful evening at the beach, and you are here simply because you can?”
“You’re not just out for a peaceful evening stroll,” he stated.
She shrugged. “No I suppose not. This is a bit far for that isn’t it.” She got to her feet and turned to face him. “I thought it’d be a good spot to meditate.”
He frowned at her. “Wouldn’t it be safer in your apartment?”
Ali folded her arms across her chest. He was not going to keep her from relaxing under the moon. “It’s easier here.”
She tensed. What did he care? “Too many people in the city,” she muttered.
He stared at her for a long moment. She tried to see what he was thinking but he had blocked off his thoughts from her. Finally he nodded and turned back toward the forest. “Don’t be forever about it,” he said before disappearing into the darkness.
Ali blinked as she tried to make out where he had gone. She was sure he wasn’t leaving her completely alone, but she didn’t understand why he even bothered to stay nearby. She shook her head. Dwelling on it wasn’t going to help her focus on her meditation. Knowing he was nearby was enough to ease her sense of vulnerability.
She spent the next half hour breathing deeply and ignoring all external stimuli as she focused on the demonic power within her. She was mildly surprised to discover it was more fluid than usual. It did not fight her as much as usual as she forced it down into the pit of her stomach. Absently she wondered if the sparring helped to release some of the energy so that it was easier for her to contain.
The moon had barely begun her ascent when Ali opened her eyes again. She stared at her hands for a while, flexing them to be sure of her strength. She grinned. She was not in any danger of accidentally decapitating someone this time.
Stretching, she noticed Hiei’s presence, or rather the lack thereof. She hoped he would come spar with her again. She wasn’t certain Kuwabara would present enough of a challenge to her sword.
She spared one last glance for the dark water before heading back to the city. She ran at a steady pace so as not to break a sweat but also so that she would get home with time to make some tea and get some studying done before going to bed. She was exhausted enough that she slept peacefully the whole night through.
The days blended as the routine fell into place. Go to school. After school training. Sometimes Hiei showed up, but less often than Koenma liked. Home for dinner, occasionally with the Urameshi’s, but usually alone. Meditation at the beach. Home to sleep. Repeat.
Weekends were spent studying and goofing off at the mall or the arcade after morning training. Ali spent her nights at the ocean, Hiei her faithful bodyguard. They rarely spoke. Sometimes she wouldn’t even see him, but she always sensed him nearby.
Occasionally there were jobs to be done. Small disturbances caused by mischievous demons, easily put to rest. No major catastrophes, which just fueled Yusuke’s paranoia. “Ever since I became Spirit Detective, it’s been one thing after the other,” he mused one afternoon on their way home from training. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad for the relative peace and quiet, but it makes me itch.”
Ali agreed. The quiet she used to cherish was quickly becoming oppressive. Her own dark thoughts occasionally intruded on the moments of peace and she wondered how long her own memories would be sealed to her. Once or twice a week she would wake up in a cold sweat, the fear of a nightmare fading even as the memory of the dream itself was lost to her.
Other times, shadows would dance at the corner of her vision, whispers of ghosts enticing her to follow. Some days she couldn’t tell if they were her thoughts or those of people in the city but she always shook them off by humming to herself or cleaning her apartment.
She tried to fill her days with friends and work to keep her busy until she was too tired to notice her demons. She looked forward to her evening walks to the point because they never bothered her there. Between the crashing of the waves on the shore and her silent companion, she was most at ease on that overlook.
The days passed, growing shorter as the nights grew colder. Ali didn’t mind the chill; it helped her focus and reminded her of home. She had memories of chopping firewood and sipping hot tea poured from an iron kettle, watching the snow settle on the trees while her father whittled tiny wolf figurines and hummed a soothing lullaby. Those were the memories she wanted to cherish. She didn’t need any other memories, especially if those of her past were as dangerous as she feared.
An icy breeze off the sea reminded her she was not in front of a roaring fire in a secluded mountain cabin. She stiffened against the wind as it blew over her. She really needed to get a heavier coat for the winter. Maybe a hat. Her hair covered her ears for the most part but did not protect against the wind.
“If you sit there any longer you might freeze to the ground,” Hiei taunted from behind her. It was one of those rare nights where he joined her by the lighthouse rather than keeping watch from afar. She didn’t think it was coincidence that these rare nights tended to follow a night she hadn’t slept well. He liked to gloat his triumphs over her and chide her for sloppiness during their sparring, and her performance always slipped the day following a nightmare.
Ali yawned as she remembered her exhaustion, her joints cracking against the cold as she stretched. Her legs were already numb from sitting so long in the cold and she laughed. “I think I might already have frozen. You’ll just have to come back in the spring when I thaw.” She couldn’t wait to get home and make a pot of tea before going to sleep.
He rolled his eyes and pulled away from the lighthouse. He stood in front of her with a hand extended to help her to her feet. She grasped it to pull herself up.
Her head spun with the motion. For a moment, she was in the middle of a forest under a red sky, far from any ocean, and he was asking her what she had done to her hair. She blinked in confusion. “What?”
“I asked if you’re really alright. You’re as pale as a ghost.” He was frowning at her white-knuckled grip on his hand.
She glanced behind him and saw the sea extending out beyond the horizon, stars peppering the moonless sky with their twinkling light. She was still on the overlook. She snatched her hand back with a muttered apology. “I think I overdid it,” she sighed.
He didn’t comment, eyeing her skeptically as he flexed feeling back into his hand. “You should probably head home,” he said flatly. “Get some rest. Classes are over for the semester right?”
She blinked back her surprise. “Yeah. We have a few weeks off for the holidays.” He’d never shown an interest in her schedule outside of their training sessions. She frowned. “I imagine we won’t have much time for our usual training sessions with all the festivities.”
If he was affected by that, happy or sad, it didn’t show on his face. He never showed emotion unless he was fighting, and even then it wasn’t shown on his face. It was expressed in his movements, his strikes and parries, the subtle nuances of fighting with a blade; a language she remembered more with each new session. She hoped he was at least a little disappointed, as she was, that they wouldn’t get to communicate that way for a while.
“C’mon,” he said, jerking his head in the direction of the city and thrusting his hands in his pockets as he began walking.
She hesitated a moment before following after him. This was a rare night indeed. He usually trailed behind or scouted ahead, never accompanied her. They walked in silence for a while. Ali decided to take advantage of the opportunity and try to get him talking. “Hiei, can I ask you something?” Worst case, he ordered her to silence. Or ran off and left her alone.
“Hm?” He didn’t turn back to look at her, but it wasn’t a rebuke. She tried not to let her heart race.
“Why do you come out here every night and stand watch for me?”
This time he did turn to look at her, his face mildly incredulous. “Would you rather be left completely vulnerable when you’re meditating?”
She shook her head. “That’s not what I mean,” she said. “You don’t particularly like me, so why do you do it instead of one of the others?”
He frowned and looked forward again. “If you’d prefer someone else, I’m sure they’d be more than happy to join you.”
Ali sighed. She couldn’t tell if he was really obtuse or if he was just avoiding answering the question. Either way, she didn’t think she was going to get an answer that would satisfy her without inadvertently pushing him away. “They probably would,” she admitted, “but I think they would hover more than you do and that would be counterproductive.”
His head bowed in a slight nod but he didn’t add anything. She thought she saw a shadow of a smirk on his face but from her position behind him she couldn’t be sure. She jogged a couple steps so she was at his side instead of trailing behind. “I really am grateful,” she said, trying to catch his eye.
He frowned and looked away from her, his shoulders tightening slightly. “Don’t think anything of it,” he muttered.
She dropped the subject and fell into silence once again. It was going to be a long walk back at this rate. She began to wonder if she’d even be able to sleep that night. She didn’t usually have nightmares on consecutive nights, but something in that moment when Hiei had helped her to her feet reminded Ali of the afternoon she’d had the vision of them all dying. It had felt similar, like another vision, but there was a wrongness to it which she couldn’t place.
The cold seeped into her bones, the darkness suddenly oppressive. She rubbed her arms and tried to focus on something else. She had fallen a few steps behind again and stared at Hiei’s retreating back. The sky flashed red again and she froze. Her stomach tightened as she watched him walking away from her. She held her breath, certain that if she called out to him, he would disappear.
You will forget him.
Hitokiri’s words taunted her. At the time he had spoken them they had been a threat, but as they echoed in her mind they became an order. An order she had once followed; she felt as certain of that as she felt Hiei would leave her behind if she called after him. Tears stung the corner of her eyes. Who had Hitokiri been to her? Why had she ever followed his commands? What else had he commanded her to do?
Faceless, bloodied bodies filled her vision. Howls and screams echoed in her ears. The scent of blood on the air intoxicated her, calling her to spill more. She didn’t want to, but her body moved seemingly against her will. There was already so much blood spilled, so many bones scattered across the earth but it still wasn’t finished. Someone was calling her name. What was her name?
“Ali!” Hiei’s hands on her shoulders shook her back to reality.
She was kneeling on the ground. “Hiei,” she breathed, looking frantically around her to get her bearings for the second time that night.
He sighed and let her go. “What has gotten into you?” he frowned as he stood up.
Ali dried her eyes on her sleeve, relieved she was safe. “I’m sorry.” She was ashamed he constantly had to bear witness to her weakness, especially given that she didn’t know why her stomach felt like it wanted to leap through her throat. What had frightened her so?
Hiei eyed her skeptically. She avoided his gaze for once, finding a spot in her lap to focus on instead. “If something is bothering you, you should talk to someone,” he said.
His face was turned away from her, looking up the path and not at her, but his stiff stance conveyed concern. She doubted he meant himself; he wasn’t the counseling type. She let a small smile tug at her lips and nodded. “You’re probably right.”
He nodded. Of course he was right. He folded his arms across his chest and frowned down at her. “Are you going to be able to walk the rest of the way?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she stammered. But her legs betrayed her and she couldn’t even get back to her feet. Her face flushed and she was grateful for the moonless dark.
Hiei sighed and knelt with his back in front of her. “Come on,” he commanded.
She was too tired to argue so she did as he asked and pulled herself up onto his back, clutching his shoulders for support as he stood. She buried her face in his back to protect against the wind as he jogged back to her apartment. His body warmed her, the steady pace of his footsteps beat a soothing rhythm which calmed her heart. By the time they returned to civilization, her terror had vanished. He set her down at the door to her apartment. “Are you going to be alright?” he asked.
She nodded. “Thank you. I’m much better now, honest.” She smiled in embarrassment. “It’s strange though. I feel like I was grasping a memory back there, but I can’t remember what it was.” Her eyes were warm with tears again.
Hiei’s face softened as he thrust his hands in his pockets and stared at her. “Is this about the things that bastard said to you?”
The question took her by surprise. She had long since decided not to let the words of a dead man get to her, putting them out of her mind almost entirely. Almost. She shrugged. “He wasn’t wrong. I don’t remember who I was before I came to the human world. I hear her voice sometimes. I know she is me, but I don’t know anything about her.” She frowned and wrapped her arms tighter around herself. “I don’t know that I want to know.”
He shrugged. “There is no one who does not bear scars on their heart. If there were, they’d be a shallow soul.” He stared right at her, not avoiding her gaze for once. “You don’t need those memories. They don’t define you.”
Ali’s heart raced. Maybe he didn’t dislike her after all. She bit back her frustration. Of course they were starting to make a connection just as their daily routine was about to be thrown into disarray. She really hoped he wasn’t about to disappear on her.
A door opened behind her and Yusuke poked his head out of his apartment. “Oh, I thought I heard someone out here.” He looked from Ali to Hiei with a questioning glance. “Everything ok?”
Ali smiled and waved dismissively. “I just overdid it a bit with my meditating tonight. Hiei was just making sure I got home ok.”
Hiei turned to leave. “Well if you have no more need of me, I’m sure there’s all sorts of mischief I can get in while you’re all enjoying your holidays.”
Yusuke laughed. “Don’t you dare make me have to come after you.”
Hiei waved behind him as he disappeared into the night. Ali frowned at Yusuke. “He’s not really going to cause problems, is he?”
He smirked. “Nothing that’ll warrant us having to go after him.” She wasn’t sure if he was joking and she didn’t want to find out. “Are you really alright?” he asked.
She nodded. “I’m just tired,” she admitted, suddenly desperate for her bed.
“Well, take it easy. If you need anything, just holler.” He waved as he shut the door, the sliver of light it cast disappearing with him.
Ali dug out her key and ambled into her apartment. She kicked off her shoes in the vestibule, hung her coat on the wall hook, and shuffled to her room at the back of the apartment. She didn’t even glance at the teapot on the stove as she passed the kitchen, her earlier desire for a cup of tea forgotten as the desire for sleep pushed her to her room.
Fatigue overtook her as she changed out of her wind-chilled clothes into clean sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt. Through bleary eyes, she stared at her bed, wondering if she was truly tired enough to not have more nightmares.
They don’t define you. As she crawled under the heavy comforter, Hiei’s words returned to her mind. She remembered his face as he had said them. There had been a softness to it, not his usual icy sharpness. An image of freshly fallen snow came to her as she settled onto her pillow. His words and his face in her mind banished her fears to the shadows and as she drifted off, she knew she would sleep peacefully until the morning.
A/N: One of the most difficult things about writing fanfiction is trying to stay true to the characters you borrow (i.e., not writing them “out of character”). Boiling them down to their essence and then writing them reacting naturally to the new variables being thrown at them and evolving to suit their new reality is something I strive to do. To facilitate that, I recycle actual quotes they’ve said in canon, if nuanced to the new situation. Hiei’s line about the “scars on [one’s] heart” was something he actually said to Kurama in the feature length film. It was a rare moment of compassion for him that resonated, and so I used it here to show he has actually softened towards Ali and might even think of her fondly. Well, as fondly as he thinks of anyone.