Chapter 20 – Break

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Ali leaned against the door in the dark of her apartment for a long while after Hiei left. She feared her heart would burst right out of her chest if she moved. She had wished for months that he would look at her as something other than a mission, but she could never have prepared herself for what had actually transpired.

She brought trembling fingers to her lips. She was a fool to think she would be able forget the warmth of the kiss he had bestowed on her. The warmth she had feverishly stolen after such a small taste. The feeling she couldn’t shake that he knew her, from before.

Tears stung her eyes yet again and she slid down the door to the floor. He had looked so vulnerable in that moment. That was not a word she associated with Hiei and she wished she could forget it. She pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes as if physical pressure could block it from her mind, or at least stem the flow of tears.

It occurred to her how tired she was as she sat there with her hands over her eyes. The floor was cool but it was far from comfortable. She was still in her coat as well. She tried to ignore the remaining traces of his scent on it as she took it off and hung it on the wall hook.

She didn’t bother turning on a light as she stripped off her clothes, leaving them in a lump on the floor as she slipped into her sweats. She would put them in the basket in the morning. Her bed called to her now.

Ali was asleep within minutes of settling into her blankets, but her sleep was far from restful. Dreams of Hiei, Yuki, and Hitokiri ran disjointed through her mind. In one, Yuki was a wolf demon and she was chasing him blindfolded. In another she watched from outside her body as she ran with Hiei, her hair as black as the ravens circling overhead, off to some stronghold in search of strong opponents. She ran with a master thief, a silver fox whose name she couldn’t quite grasp but whose eyes seemed all too familiar.

She swam in a beautiful pool at the base of a small waterfall, Hitokiri smiling at her as he sat at the water’s edge. He was nothing like the pale monster she remembered fighting against in the human realm, the one Hiei had dispatched for her. The water trembled with her tears, his serene face became blurred and she heard his voice. You will forget…

Screams. Howls. Blood. So much blood. It rose up around her and she struggled to get free before it drowned her. She was afraid. She didn’t want to remember. Not this.

She awoke in a cold sweat. Soft grey light filled her room. It was well past sunrise, but the sun was bashfully hiding behind a cover of winter clouds. Ali sat up and buried her head in her arms, trying to remember what her dreams had been about. They grew hazier as sleep faded.

She snarled in frustration. She needed to clear her head. She glanced out her bedroom window and saw that a light snow was falling. She threw off her pajamas and tossed them on the floor just as unceremoniously as yesterday’s clothes. She stepped into fresh jeans and pulled on a warm sweater that was slightly too large for her. She laced up her boots and grabbed her coat off the hook. Her hand only hesitated for a fraction of a second as she reached for it.

She hurried away from her apartment towards the edge of the city, avoiding the park as she did so. She needed time to think before she could confront Hiei again. He had agreed not to speak of it, but she wasn’t so confident in her own resolve. Not that anyone would believe her if she told them. Not that she was the type to kiss and tell. Her face flushed as she remembered how brazenly she had kissed him back.

Her boots crunched on the snow packed forest floor as she came to a stop. The dreams she wanted to remember, had he been in them? Was that why she was out walking in the snow all alone? She shook her head. No, there had been something else in them, clues to her past, she was sure.

She tilted her head toward the sky, blinking fluffy snowflakes out of her eyes. There were other things to discuss with Hiei. She was sure he knew something about her past. She would ask him about that. Maybe it would give her an answer to why he had kissed her. Her cheeks grew warm again as she contemplated the possibility that they might have been…

Only the sudden crunching of snow alerted her in time to brace herself for an incoming attack. Thoughts of Hiei flew from her mind as something hit her with deadly force, sending her flying into the surrounding trees.

* * *

“I’m glad you’re here, Hiei,” Koenma said when the fire demon walked into his office. “We have a problem. The others are on their way.”

Hiei halted in his stride. Koenma raised an eyebrow. That wasn’t like Hiei. He shook it off and continued to the prince’s desk. “I’m done,” he announced.

“Done with what?” Koenma folded his hands on his desk to hold them still.

“This bodyguard mission. I can’t do it anymore.”

The fire demon’s fierce gaze froze Koenma to his chair. “It’s not a voluntary mission, Hiei. You can’t just quit.”

Hiei broke his stare and folded his arms across his chest. “I’ve already done more than my fair share of watching over her. Pull another detective onto her if you must, but I am done.”

“Hiei, you understand your chances of returning to Makai again are next to nil if you withdraw from this mission?”

The fire demon tightened his grip on his arms. “Then send me to whatever prison you must. I cannot remain in that girl’s company any longer.”

Koenma frowned. What had happened between them for Hiei to suddenly want out? By all accounts, they were getting along well.

His thoughts were interrupted as the others burst into the office. “She wasn’t home,” Yusuke reported.

Koenma bit back a curse. “Kurama, I trust you gave her the tracker?”

The redhead nodded. “Disguising it as a gift from the group was a wise choice, sir,” he answered. “It was not in her apartment so I can only assume she was wearing it when she left.”

“Why all the commotion?” Kuwabara asked. “Did something happen?”

“Not yet.” Koenma shifted stacks of papers off his desk to get to his monitor controls. He noted Hiei’s sudden tension and filed it away to be addressed later. There were more pressing matters than the fire demon’s personality problems. “Ah, here we are,” he muttered as he uncovered the panel and pressed a series of buttons.

“What is this about, Koenma?” Yusuke’s tone bordered on dangerous. He hated being left in the dark and liked less being rushed to a briefing and then kept waiting.

“We have reports that a particularly nasty demon has slipped through the barrier,” he said as the screen descended from the ceiling. There was no time to be mysterious. The longer they were away from Ali, the greater the likelihood of her capture, or death.

* * *

Ali came to her senses just in time to dodge a second blow from her attacker. The tree he had launched her into shattered with his second attack as she spun out of the way. She had just enough time to register the black spiky hair before he lunged again. “Hiei?” She had no weapon on her to parry his sword so she stayed on the defensive, dodging as he swung low at her waist. “Hiei! What are you doing?” she yelled.

He stood and rolled his shoulders. “I should have killed you long ago.” His voice was cold, malicious. He meant every word. She tried to probe his mind, to find some semblance of reason that she could understand, but his psychic defenses were impenetrable.

Ali hesitated. She didn’t want to fight him, and she was at a disadvantage without a sword. Maybe she could get him talking. “Is this about last night?” He didn’t react. What was going on with him this morning? Why couldn’t she break through his mental barriers? “Just forget it. I won’t bring it up again.”

“You won’t get the chance,” he snarled. He leapt at her again, slashing wildly with one hand. Ali jumped away from each blow. It wasn’t a tactic he usually used.

Suddenly he swung at her with his free fist. His punch connected with her stomach, sending her flying once again into the surrounding trees. She coughed and tasted blood. The blow surprised her more than the pain. He was really trying to kill her. She got to her feet and saw him lunging toward her again, sword overhead. If she didn’t start fighting back, she was going to die.

* * *

“When you say shape-shifters…,” Kuwabara stammered.

“I mean they can take any form, demon or human,” Koenma explained. “The Manawydans are a very powerful demon race.”

“How did they get through the barrier?” Kurama asked, a hint of annoyance in his tone. “They’re supposed to be A-class and higher.”

Koenma nodded. “They are. However, there is a sect that seem to have intentionally weakened themselves enough to slip through the barrier. There is at least one, and as many as four, operating in the human realm as we speak.”

“How do you not know how many are here?” Yusuke shouted.

Koenma did his best not to flinch under the stony gazes of his most powerful fighters. “They’re near impossible to track once they’ve crossed over,” he admitted. “We managed to tag one before it gave us the slip. We know it isn’t alone so we’ve kept tabs on it in hopes it will lead us to the others, but so far we’ve been less than lucky.”

“Are they a threat to her?” Hiei’s voice startled Koenma and he met the man’s icy glare.

Kuwabara looked from the fire demon to the prince, his forehead perspiring as his nerves swelled. “Well? Are they after Ali?”

Koenma sighed and returned to the console at his desk. He pressed several more buttons to bring up the location of the tracker he was interested in. “I think it would be unwise to assume otherwise,” he said matter-of-factly. If the Manawydans were after Ali, it did not bode well for her. To the best of his knowledge, they had been among the faction in the War advocating for the total annihilation of the wolf demon race to keep the Power out of everyone’s hands.

“What are those blinking dots?” Yusuke asked.

Plural? Koenma glanced up at the screen and felt the blood leave his face. “The blue one is the tracker we gave to Ali.” He began frantically pressing keys on the console. He couldn’t summon a portal to take them directly to her but he could get them close. “The other is the Manawydan we tagged.” Hiei was gone before the portal had materialized. It was another minute before the others could be on their way. Koenma prayed they were not too late.

* * *

Ali crouched and waited for Hiei to close the distance. He didn’t seem to care that he’d left a gaping opening for her. As he started to bring his sword down, she flipped away from the blow, kicking the sword from his hand. She caught it as she landed. “It’s over, Hiei. I win.” Her breath swirled in the air before her.

He rolled his shoulders again, preparing for another attack. Was he going to come at her with no weapon now? “Hiei, stop. Let’s talk this over.” He ignored her pleas and leapt at her again. She spun to get out of his reach, swinging the sword to put him on the defensive.

He didn’t leap out of the way. In his haste to reach her, the sword caught him at his waist and sliced clean through him. She dropped the blade as the separate halves of his body thumped into the snow.

Black blood stained the pure white ground, a pool growing and spreading towards her as she stood frozen to the ground. She stifled a cry behind trembling hands. They smelled of blood. She looked at them. They were dripping with black.

The sky flashed red. A trail of corpses lay at her feet. The smell of death stirred something in her. Her stomach twisted and wrenched. It threatened to empty, but something new inside her quelled it. Excitement. She wanted to spill more blood.

That recognition caused her to stumble backwards, bringing her back to the human realm and Hiei’s severed body on the ground before her. This time she did retch. She hadn’t eaten breakfast so there was only bile, but she spilled it just the same.

The cold seeped into her skin. She had run once before because she feared she would only bring them death. This was proof she had been right. She felt a pull to run. Yes. She would simply disappear again. For good this time. One foot in front of the other, she trusted her feet to carry her where she could not see. Tears blurred her vision as she sped north.

Why? Why had it been him?

A/N: I’m actually pretty proud of the pacing in this one. I used to hate multiple POVs in one chapter, but I played around with it for this one until I was satisfied. Also, the demon race that debuts here, the Manawydans, were actually borrowed from another fic writer I used to follow back in the day. Sadly, her account is gone, as are her amazing fics, and I don’t actually remember the lore she created for these demons. But I liked the idea of shape-shifters for my story and she was happy to see how I would interpret them and I’ve gone on reinterpreting them over the years until they gained this final form. They always make me think of her too, and I hope she’s doing well.

Next Chapter: Desperation ->

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