Chapter 19 – Confrontation

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Hiei was almost surprised when Ali went to the cliff. He wondered if she had kept to her usual schedule in the holiday week despite not having anyone to stand guard while she meditated. His blood boiled at the thought of her being so reckless. Surely she hadn’t been that foolish.

But then why was she here now? She hadn’t taken her usual position seated on the ground. Her shoulders were stiff, her whole body rigid. He wondered if she sensed some danger and reached out with his own aura to find the cause of her distress. There was nothing waiting in the shadows aside from him.

“Why were you following me all day?” Her voice carried a chill across the overlook to his hiding place in the trees. Again he sought another presence, but again he felt nothing. He hadn’t noticed anyone else trailing her earlier in the day either. He looked back to find her staring straight at his hiding place in the shadows and bit his cheek to keep from cursing aloud.

There was no one else on the cliff but the two of them. She knew he was there and exactly where he was. He shouldn’t have been surprised. He couldn’t decide if he was impressed or annoyed by that, but either way there was no use remaining up in the tree.

He dropped to the ground and started toward her. Before he made it halfway across the cliff to her, though, her gaze froze him. Her eyes shone in the dark, the silver crescent setting behind him reflected in her irises, making them glow. He shoved his hands in his pockets and forced himself to look away. “It’s my job,” he stated.

Her laugh held no trace of humor. “You expect me to accept that answer but I don’t.” He stole a sideways glance. Her face was dark, her hands balled fists at her sides. He felt certain that had she hackles like a real wolf, they would have been raised. “You’ve been gone all week. Despite Koenma’s concerns, nothing happened last night. To be honest, I half expected you to vanish again after being forced to socialize for a night. But then you appeared in my apartment to “check on me” despite having left the party hours before me.”

Hiei snarled. “You woke me up when you walked by the park with that human.” Then he narrowed his own eyes at her. “What were you thinking letting a stranger take you home? Of course I made sure you actually arrived safely.”

She blinked back surprise. He couldn’t be sure how much of it was anger and how much of it was shock, but her voice was anger tight when she answered. “He’s not a stranger. You know what I spent the rest of my evening doing after you left the party? Talking with Yuki, making a new friend. That’s what happens when you talk to people, Hiei, they become friends.” She folded her arms and glared at him. “And friends don’t let a young lady walk home alone.”

“You have friends who could have walked you home,” he countered. “You didn’t have to take the risk of leaving with someone you just met.” He was beginning to grow angry with her. He couldn’t care less how she got home as long as she got home, so why did Yuki bother him so much?

Her shoulders tensed and she gripped her arms tightly as if to keep from throwing her fists at him. “Kurama still had some stragglers to attend to. The Kuwabara’s were seeing Botan and Yukina off. Yusuke was taking Keiko home. Rather than be a third wheel to them, I accepted Yuki’s offer. The other guys were all agreeable. They wouldn’t have let me just go off with a stranger either.”

He shrugged. “I should hope not.”

“Fine. So you were just doing your duty to see me home safely last night. That still doesn’t explain why you were following me today.”

He balled his fists in his pockets and hoped she didn’t notice. “You were out alone again.”

Her eyes narrowed. “I was with Yuki and Yusuke.”

Hiei grunted. “Yusuke can’t give his full attention to you if he has to split it between you and those humans. Yuki is still suspicious.”

“You’re the one being suspicious,” she sighed, exasperated. “Honestly, if I didn’t know you better I’d almost think you were…,” she let that thought trail off as her arms fell to her sides. Her eyes flashed dangerously. “You said he wasn’t a threat so why should I be suspicious of him?”

He looked past her, out across the sea. “Just because he wasn’t a threat doesn’t mean there aren’t other threats out there.”

“I can take care of myself,” she snarled.

He rolled his eyes and laughed. “And yet you were captured so easily by Hitokiri’s minions.” His grin faded as soon as the words were out of his mouth.

Her face fell and she turned away from him, closing him off. He took a step toward her, but stopped and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. What did he care if her feelings were hurt? He only spoke the truth. It would do her some good to remember what happened when she forgot about the danger she was in. And yet…

Nothing had ever made him regret his words the way her silence did now. She had almost accused him of being jealous of Yuki and it finally hit him that she was right. He hadn’t been able to rationalize his growing anger so he assumed the young man was suspicious for showing interest in her. Kurama’s words came unbidden to his mind. “I think you’re becoming attached.” It was why her smile at the party had irritated him so. He unconsciously wished for it to be directed at him instead.

His frown deepened. He had never known love; it was his curse. It was his burden as Imiko, the forbidden child of the koorime. He had no place in the world, no home. He had never cared if he pushed people away. His only solace came from the tear gem his mother had bequeathed him at his birth. His only goal now was to find it after it had been lost when he was a child.

But Ali unnerved him. Being near her eased his anger and self-loathing similar to the way his mother’s stone once did. She gave him the sense that he had been loved once and had had a place he could call home. It wasn’t right. It was not something he deserved.

“Do you want to know why I ran that day?” Her quivering voice shook him from his thoughts. She was half turned back towards him, her arms crossed so tightly it seemed she might break if she let go. She closed her eyes and inhaled before going on. “Telepathy isn’t my only psychic ability. Sometimes I also get visions. They’re rare, but when they come there’s no doubt that what I see will come true.”

The air was still as she spoke, but she shivered. “After you let me meditate that first day, I saw something. I’ve only had a handful over my life, but they always feel the same and leave me drained afterwards. When I woke up back at the estate I knew it hadn’t just been a dream.” Her voice cracked as she fought back tears.

“I knew it was stupid. That running wouldn’t change anything. But I had to try. I couldn’t just let you all die like that. None of you deserved that fate and certainly not for my sake.” She looked up to the stars, as if they could banish the tears rolling down her cheeks. “When I tripped in that forest, it paralyzed me. I knew you would all appear to help me, just as I knew your fight would be futile.”

She stared at her hands as she laughed mirthlessly. “The worst part was not knowing if I had doomed you all to an early grave by running or if things would have happened differently had I only stayed put. All I knew was the inevitable outcome and that I was powerless to stop it.” Her lip quivered as she met his eyes again. “That’s why I was so helpless that day. I was watching my new friends die in a sick déjà vu episode. The next thing I knew, I was bound and chained all alone in a dark cell with no idea where I was and with no hopes of rescue.”

Hiei could no longer bear the sight of her tears. His body moved without thought and he grabbed her shoulders, pulling her close to him and wrapping his arms tightly around her. She gasped in shock and tensed briefly under his embrace. He thought it might be strange to embrace another being in comfort, but as she melted into him the only thing that felt odd to him was how perfectly she fit in his arms.

She clung to his chest, her fists tangled in his cloak as she cried. “I was so scared,” she choked out between racking sobs. “And so ashamed. It was happening again and it was all my fault. I couldn’t save them.”

Hiei pulled away from her and placed a hand under her chin, tilting her head up. “Look at me,” he said. “We don’t go down so easily.” He smirked at the surprise in her eyes. “And you are not powerless. We wouldn’t have beaten that bastard without you.” He shrugged. “Hell, if you’d been in your right mind I’m sure you wouldn’t have even needed us.”

Her eyes narrowed skeptically, but there was a ghost of a fire behind them. They searched his face as her grip on his cloak relaxed. A smirk tugged at the corner of her lips. “Are you admitting that you needed my help back then?”

He laughed. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I had that under control.” She smiled then, the tears finally ceasing. He wiped the last one from her cheek. “I’m saying I won’t make you cry anymore.” She stared at him a moment before she nodded, accepting his apology.

For a long moment the silence stretched out between them, the waves crashing on the shore below the only sound. Her eyes still glistened with wet, but the fire had risen in them once again. There was a fierceness in them he recognized, but there was something else. It was tenderness that tugged at him like a distant memory.

He didn’t know why it surprised him. He had seen her look at him like that dozens of times before. He always looked away when she did because he felt he didn’t deserve to be looked at with so much compassion. Now he realized it unnerved him because he was sure she wasn’t the first to look at him like that.

“Hiei?” Her smile had faded and her eyes searched his with concern. He was scowling again. “Why do you always look away?”

He made himself hold her gaze this time. The wind caught her scent and blew it all around him, making his blood race once again. Nostalgia overwhelmed his senses. “Who are you?” he asked softly.

Confusion rippled across her face, but she didn’t back away. For the second time that night his body moved of its own accord, this time bringing her face to his as he brushed his lips over hers. They were still salty with the tears she had shed, and as he pulled away from her he licked them from his own lips.

Her eyes were wide in shock, her body rigid against his. He froze. What was he doing? This was wrong. He had crossed a line he didn’t even know he had. “Ali, I-“

She halted his apology by throwing her arms around his neck and pressing her mouth against his again, this time holding it for a few seconds longer. When she pulled away her eyes searched his, but for what he didn’t know. She sighed and buried her face in his chest. Her shoulders trembled as he wrapped his arms around them again. “It’s getting late,” he murmured. “You’ll catch a cold if you stay out here too much longer.”

Her head bobbed on his chest, but she didn’t immediately release him. He let her sob into his cloak so he wouldn’t have to see her tears. He looked up at the stars and frowned at them. And he had just said he wouldn’t make her cry anymore. He really was despicable.

When she had cried herself dry, he carried her home. It was the second time in as many weeks. “I’m sorry I got mad at you,” she said at her door. They were the first words either of them had said since leaving the overlook. “I really do appreciate you looking out for me.” He nodded wordlessly. She bit her lip in hesitation. “Look, I don’t want things to be weird so let’s just keep this between us and pretend nothing happened,” she said in a rush.

He thrust his hands into his pockets and turned to leave. “There’s nothing to tell,” he said a touch coldly.

“Right,” she breathed. He wasn’t sure if it was relief or disappointment in her reply, but he didn’t want to look at her to find out. “Well, goodnight.” She shut the door to her apartment and he headed toward the park.

He sat in his tree staring at the sky for hours, thinking. He went over their conversation a dozen times, trying to sort out what had prompted him to behave so foolishly. Each time he thought he was on the cusp of grasping a hazy memory, it slipped away, leaving him flustered and angry.

The conclusion he came to at the end of the night was that he couldn’t continue in this mission. The others would have to see to her safe keeping. He had done more than his fair share. He didn’t care if Koenma refused to lessen his sentence. He would go see the prince first thing in the morning.

A/N: Aaaaangst. Gods, this has gone so many different ways over the years. The very first time I wrote it, it was way too fluffy. Disgustingly sweet. Did not set up the tone right at all. But back then, I was writing for me. And for a friend. And she demanded fluffy kisses. And it was self-indulgent. But I learned from my mistakes and killed my darlings and instead of “Happily Ever After” we have “oh dear god what did we just do” and that makes for so much better tension!

Also, another minor note on context here: Hiei mentions a “tear gem…bequeathed him at this birth.” A key feature of the demon race his mother hails from is that their tears harden into precious, yellow gems worth millions on the black market. As they are a cold, hard people, their tears are rare. (Yukina was captured and tortured so that she would “make” tear gems for evil men, though she resisted physical pain, only crying when they killed the birds that she cared for.) However, when an ice maiden gives birth, she sheds a single tear for her child, this one signified by a blue color, and it is given to the child as a talisman. Hiei lost his in a battle a long time ago and got his Jagan eye in part to search for it.

Next Chapter: Break ->

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