Hiei opened his eyes and found himself in a cavernous hallway. The walls stretched up into darkness and he could see no end to them. Lamp sconces at lengthy intervals made eerie pools of light along the endless corridor. Darkness filled the spaces in between and extended beyond his sight. He looked behind him and found it to be the same.
He had looked inside minds before, but this was a different sensation. Rather than peeking through a window and watching for information, he was deep inside the mental fortress with no idea which way was up. Genkai’s warning echoed within him. He hadn’t believed it would be possible to become trapped in another person’s mind, but now that he was in it, he wasn’t confident he could get out.
There was nothing for it but to find Ali and set her straight. Steeling himself, he moved forward. There were doors on either side of the hallway. Most were locked and did not yield to physical force. Some opened, the rooms small and dark and mostly empty. He only found trinkets on the floor or photographs on the walls.
There was an amethyst crystal in a glass case. A wooden carving of a pack of wolves. A pair of dolls, one with silver hair, one with black. A sword and a bow leaning together, precariously balanced. A painting of a serene pool at the base of a small waterfall. A miniature log cabin. He couldn’t figure out why they were spread across so many rooms.
The pictures were easier to interpret. They were memories, many from the past year. One room was full of pictures of their training sessions. Another contained images of the holiday party. There was a room for school and a room for home and a room for their day at the beach. He didn’t spend any length of time in any one room, but he spent the shortest time in the room for meditation. The only pictures there were of the cliff, the lighthouse, and him.
It unsettled him to see himself pictured so in her mind. Something about the images invoked the same feeling he had when she gave him that tender gaze. A feeling of nostalgia and familiarity. A feeling that tugged at him and drew him deeper into her mind.
That same feeling told him she wasn’t in any of these rooms. He quickened his pace down the hall, searching, listening, feeling. The doors flashed by him so rapidly he lost count, but the feeling got stronger. He knew he was getting closer.
He skidded to a halt in front of a blackened, scarred door, far more massive than the others had been. It was bound with chains and seals even Kurama would balk at trying to break. And from behind it, the unmistakable, intoxicating smell of blood. Their blood is on my hands.
Hiei stood frozen in the hallway. There was evil behind that door. It seemed to absorb the light from the wall sconces on either side of it. Whatever memories were locked away in there, Hiei was sure they would kill Ali and everyone around her.
If her current trauma didn’t kill her first.
The clang of sword blades rang out down the hall, and she tugged at him again. He left the demon door behind and ran towards its foil. A door of light beckoned him, blinding him to what was inside until he crossed the threshold. She was just on the other side though; he knew it as he knew how to breathe.
The light gave way to a different sort of brightness as he stumbled out into a snowy forest. It was the same as the morning she had faced the Manawydan. She was reliving her fight with him. Another clang of swords drew his attention to the battle ahead.
Ali’s face contorted in pain as Hiei swung down at her. She flipped and kicked his sword out of his hand. Begged him not to come at her any more. This was not the way it was supposed to be. He leapt at her and she swung, severing him in two. An anguished scream tore from her throat and the battle reset.
Hiei watched the spectacle twice more as he pieced together how the battle had happened. Tears streaked her face from the start each time. She knew what was coming and fought against it. But she was tiring. As the fight reset again, he realized something was wrong.
She was not walking through the forest this time. She sank to her knees in the middle of the trees, her eyes turned to the snowy sky. She did not brace herself for the impact that was coming. The fight had gone out of her.
Hiei saw the monster running from the other side and moved to intercept him. His sword caught the imposter’s just as the nightmare-Hiei was about to strike a killing blow to Ali’s back. He grunted with the effort of fighting himself and marveled at how strong the fake was. “What do you think you are doing?” he snapped at her. She stirred behind him. This was definitely not part of the script. “Why are you wallowing in self-pity? Because you killed a monster?”
“Hiei?” She turned to see the two Hiei’s struggling against each other. “But you’re…”
“Still alive, dumbass.” He broke the stalemate and threw the other Hiei across the clearing. “But we’ll both be dead if we don’t finish off this fake and get out of here.”
She shook her head. “This isn’t how it happened. I killed you!”
The Manawydan was getting to his feet. Hiei clenched his teeth. “I’m telling you, it wasn’t me. Why would I try to kill you?”
“Well…,” She didn’t have time to answer as the monster lunged at them again.
Hiei deflected it with greater ease this time. It was weakening as she began to come to her senses. He turned to her and held out his hand. “Come on. This is your fight, not mine.”
She hesitated. “Then why are you here?”
“Because you are dying and your friends are insufferable when they’re miserable.”
The Manawydan shrieked as it came flying towards them. Hiei scowled and met it once more. A lightning jab sent it barreling off to the right. “Killing me has apparently burdened you with an enormous amount of guilt. Guilt that you have no responsibility to bear for a number of reasons, the least of which being that I am not dead.”
She frowned at him as the nightmare groaned in the fallen timbers. “If you aren’t dead, where are we?”
“Inside your head.”
The groaning stopped as she threw back her head and laughed. The Manawydan stood at the edge of the trees glowering at them, but did not advance. Her laughter rang through the woods, a manic tinkling that set his hair on end. She clutched her sides as fresh tears rolled down her cheeks.
When her fit had passed, still chuckling she pointed at the fake Hiei. “If we’re in my head, why do I have to keep fighting this thing? I have to kill you one more time just to make you stop haunting me?”
He shrugged. “This is your nightmare. You could end it if you wanted to. You can go wherever you want.”
Ali looked at the Manawydan and scanned the clearing. The room began to dissolve and reform around them. Hiei was not entirely surprised to find himself standing beneath the lighthouse at the overlook. She stood at the edge, gazing out at the sea. “Am I really dying?”
He nodded. “You fought a very powerful demon. A shapeshifter with psychic abilities that surpass even your own extraordinary telepathic powers.”
“Why did it look like you?”
Hiei hesitated. He also wondered why, and was afraid of the answer. “I don’t know.”
She continued to stare out at the sea. The moon was as it had been the night before the attack. The ground still frozen with snow, though he couldn’t feel the cold the same as he had that night.
If he had just left her alone, none of this would have happened. “Ali, I-“
“Please don’t say you’re sorry.” She turned her head towards him and he bit his tongue. “You’re right. I should be stronger.”
“That’s not what I-“
“I know it’s not what you meant, but it’s true.” She folded her hands on her chest. “I used to be much stronger, I can sense it.” Tears formed in her eyes. “I’m scared, Hiei. I’m afraid of what will happen if I tap into that power. I’m afraid of her memories flowing into me. I’m afraid of losing everything that makes me, me.”
Hiei remained where he stood, restraining himself from closing the distance between them. This whole mess started because he had gotten too close to that which was forbidden to him. He never should have kissed her. That much was clear to him now, and if he moved this time, repeating his actions of that night, she would only be burdened with his curse. He had to set it right.
“Ali, you have friends at your side, powerful friends, who will do everything they can to make sure you never lose sight of yourself. They’re waiting for you, right now.” Being deep within her mind, it should be easy to show her what was happening outside of it. He closed his eyes and focused on his Jagan, trying to look back out from within.
Through his Jagan he saw Yukina, hands hovered over Ali’s unconscious body, diligently performing her healing magic over her. A soft gasp told him Ali was seeing it as well. Kuwabara sat across from Yukina, following orders as she and Botan required. Genkai sat in the corner smoking her pipe, concern adding new wrinkles to her already wizened face. Yusuke and Kurama stood off to one side, keeping out of the way of the healers but offering words of encouragement and support just the same.
He opened his eyes, back in her mind, and she was staring at the sky over his head with tears rolling down her cheeks. “You see? You’re not alone.”
She nodded and wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands. She sniffed and rubbed her nose with her sleeve. For a long moment she simply stared at him. He thrust his hands into his pockets. He would not allow himself to comfort her this time. “What about you?” she asked.
That wasn’t the question he thought she would ask, though it didn’t entirely surprise him. “I’m just the messenger,” he said. “I was the only one who could reach you in here, but after this I won’t be part of your retinue anymore. You’ll be better off without me in your life.”
He thought she would protest, insist that he was wrong and that she needed him in her life. He didn’t want her to say such impossible things, but he expected them just the same. Her silence surprised him. She regarded him with sad eyes before nodding. He felt chilled with her agreement. It was what he wanted, so why did he feel like he had just lost his mother’s tear gem all over again?
“Thank you, Hiei,” she said. “I think this makes us even.”
He allowed her a grin. “Yeah. We’re even now.” She smiled too, though it didn’t hold a sliver of the warmth of her usual smile. “You ready?”
She nodded. “See you on the other side.”
A rush of wind lifted him off the ground as it evaporated beneath him. The landscape enveloped her as he was flung out of her mind and back to his own body. He opened his eyes with a start, unsteady on his feet as Kurama and Yusuke rushed to his side. He waved them off as he got his bearings.
“So?” Kuwabara aired the question that was on all their minds.
Genkai grunted. “Well he survived and she’s still breathing.”
Ali’s breathing was much steadier now, and she didn’t appear to be sweating as much. She would be okay. “She’ll be back,” Hiei confirmed. He retrieved his bandana from the floor and replaced it on his forehead, sealing the Jagan once more. He nodded to Yukina and moved to the door.
“Where are you going?” Yusuke asked.
“My part in this ends here,” he replied, and he disappeared into the night.
A/N: Writing psychics and telepaths opens doors to interesting milieus in that they can often “see” into another person’s mind or even enter it entirely. But the mind is such an abstract thing, so it’s fun to interpret how it might appear to different characters. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of mental manifestations and it was interesting to explore here. Seeing into Ali’s mind also helped me to understand her better. Did it help Hiei? Hard to say. You’ll just have to keep reading!