Ali’s unconscious mind cut through the haze of the drink Kurama had given her. There was something she had to do. She didn’t have time to be sleeping like a babe. She awoke only a few minutes after he left her, her mind a calm sea thanks to his ministrations. That would help her in her task. It was only a matter of time before she slipped back under.
She moved like a shadow through the palace halls, deflecting wandering eyes and deceiving curious minds so none would recall her passing. She had put these skills to use once, long ago, stealing treasures great and small for the thrill of the hunt. It had passed the time, anyway. Brought her closer to the day she dreaded.
She refused to think about that as she darted through the Gates of Judgment, toward the River Styx. If she brought those memories to the surface, she would no doubt be dragged under once again. She hoped she had enough time to speak with him before that happened.
Ali emerged in Living World at the lighthouse on the overlook. He would be waiting there for her, or would seek her there. He had been inside her mind, he knew her more intimately than she knew herself. She had to know what he had seen when he was in there. What had made him leave her side? What did it have to do with Sayuri?
Hiei appeared from the trees’ lengthening shadows. The spring wind caught his scent and swirled it around her. The faint but distinct odor that marked him demon, and a smoky smell like charred oak, had a calming effect on her. Even without her present clarity, his scent would pacify her. Had it really been weeks since she had been alone with him?
“I thought our debt was settled when I brought you out.” He frowned at her from the edge of the trees, but he did not seem angry. “You are determined to keep your hold over me, aren’t you.”
Ali shook her head. “I just want to talk with you. I am not holding you to anything, though I do hope you won’t just run away again.”
He folded his arms across his chest and narrowed his eyes at her. “I’m not here to talk things out with you.”
“Then why are you here?”
“To give you a warning.” He extended his arm towards her. “Don’t open that door. You will never be able to live as a normal human if you do.”
The door? She shook her head. “It’s too late for that. If I don’t face this, there’s no way I’ll be able to live normally. I have to know what it is I am fighting against so that I can beat it. You knew me.”
“I knew her,” he stressed as he looked away from her. “That was a lifetime ago, though.”
Ali could feel the pull of her other half. Her time was short. “Is that why you kissed me?” His back stiffened. “Is that why you risked death to come into my mind to save me? You could have just let me die.”
He balled his fists. “I had a debt to repay.”
“No,” she said sadly. “Your debt is too great. You needed answers.” He spun and glowered at her. “You thought going in there would solve the mystery of your own foggy memory. Maybe not consciously,” she added as his glower became a snarl. She tapped her temple with her finger. “Only, whatever you found in here raised more questions than it answered.”
She brought her finger to her lips as she pondered his words. “A door, you say? If my past self is sealed behind a door in my own mind, then those seals were cracked on that door as soon as Sayuri was revealed to me. Is that how—“
Her demon energy pulsed. She clutched her chest as her whole body trembled. She glanced up at Hiei. Confusion marred his face. She needed to ask him what he remembered, but the words died in her throat. Her time was up.
Ali whipped her head around wildly, trying to get her bearings. The last thing she remembered was falling asleep in Koenma’s palace in Spirit World. Now she found herself standing at the lighthouse, and Hiei was watching her warily from the trees. Had he brought her here? “What are we doing here?” she cried.
“The other you,” Hiei said. “Do you remember?”
Her twin. “Sayuri.” He frowned. “You knew her, didn’t you?” She couldn’t read his face. Frustrated, she tried to look into his mind. Except, when she reached out with her mind, there was a wall blocking her way. Not from him, but from within her own mind. What was happening to her?
Kurama burst onto the overlook, sighing in relief to have found her and Hiei there. “What are you two doing here?” he scolded. “You,” he frowned at her. “I thought you were sleeping.”
Ali brought a trembling hand to her forehead. “Wasn’t I?” Yes, Kurama had given her something to drink, to calm her and help her sleep. “Did you bring me here?” she asked Hiei.
“You were already here when I got here,” he said, his eyes still watching her cautiously. “You called me here.”
“And you came?” Kurama’s brows knitted in confusion.
Hiei’s eyes flitted to Kurama before settling back on her. “There was something different about her. You notice it too, don’t you?”
Kurama studied her for a moment. Something like recognition dawned on his face and he nodded. “Yes, it would seem you are right.”
“I don’t understand,” Ali shook her head. “I didn’t call you. I don’t even remember coming here.” She wrapped her arms tightly around herself. “This isn’t funny you guys.”
“Do you think we are the prank playing type?” Hiei asked, exasperated.
Ali looked them both over. Hiei definitely wasn’t, but Kurama… He had always been a tricky one. How many times had he attempted to ensnare her in one of his traps?
The sky flashed red. No, no, not again. She shut her eyes against the lightning-streaked crimson. She would not allow herself to look at them. She was afraid she wouldn’t recognize them even if she did. Was this a Foretelling? A memory?
She gritted her teeth in frustration. There was so much about her own mind that she didn’t know. She had a feeling her telepathic block was related to the hole in her memory. If she could just follow the trail through that hole…
Warm hands supported her shoulders, startling her out of her reverie. Hiei and Kurama were on either side of her, holding her up. “You really should be resting.” She expected the scolding from Kurama, but it was Hiei who spoke. Somehow it was more comforting coming from him. “You can barely stand.”
She shook her head. “Sorry. I was seeing things again.”
“Premonitions?” Kurama asked hurriedly.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. They don’t feel like that day at the mansion. They’re hazier than that, like a memory I can’t quite grasp.”
“Is that what happened that night back before Christmas?” Hiei asked. Kurama eyed them both curiously.
Ali nodded. “Every time it’s the same. The sky turns red like blood and I’m a thousand miles away, struggling to get my bearings before you snap me out of it.”
Hiei frowned. “This only happens around me?”
She could see the thought process running through his mind even with her telepathy blocked. She had just given him proof that he should stay away from her. He had confirmation that he was right to keep his distance, that he was a monster who triggered her nightmares.
She saw it differently. He was the one who brought her back. He was the one who understood her troubles better than anyone, had fought her demons alongside her. She needed him.
Her face flushed at that errant thought. “N-no,” she stammered. “Not exactly.”
Hiei and Kurama exchanged concerned looks. “Regardless, I think it unwise for you to be out in the open right now,” Kurama said.
Ali nodded her agreement as they helped her up. She was fighting half blind with her telepathy blocked. Not that she was about to let them know that.
“You get her home and make sure she stays there,” Hiei said. “I’ll go talk to Koenma.”
Ali tightened her grip on his arm. “Please come back this time,” she said. Hiei stared at her hand on his arm for a long moment. Finally, he looked in her eyes and nodded. He disappeared a heartbeat later. She braced herself against Kurama’s side and clung tightly to him. “I’m the world’s biggest fool, aren’t I?”
He chuckled. “I believe you have some competition in that race, but I hardly think you’re leading.”
“Thanks. I think.”
They walked in silence for a bit. She was not used to reticence from Kurama. Since he had taken over her meditation security detail, they had always chatted on their walks home. As if she had voiced that thought aloud, he spoke. “Ali, you know you can talk to me about anything, right?”
She smiled through the pain in her heart as she nodded, keeping her eyes forward on the path. She had teased him at Christmas for acting like a protective older brother, but it was just who he was. The locket around her neck reminded her that he, at least, thought of her as family. “I’m scared,” she said. “These memories, I’m afraid they will destroy me as I am now. If the past me couldn’t face them, how can I?”
“So she did do it then?” Kurama asked. “Sealed her memories and fled here?”
Ali froze. “Did I say that?”
“Not exactly,” Kurama said. “It’s a theory we have.”
“But how would she- how would I have done that?”
Kurama shrugged. “I am not as powerful a psychic in this form as I was in my demon form, but even then I couldn’t hold a candle to you. No one could.”
Ali frowned. “You speak as if you knew me then.” Was that why his scent had seemed so familiar even back at the beginning? Her pulse quickened. “Did you?”
He kept his gaze on the path ahead as he answered. “That is something I am trying to understand,” he said in a measured tone. She railed against the wall in her mind to know what he was trying to withhold from her.
“What is there to understand?” her voice trembled. “Either you knew me or you didn’t. Kurama, please, I am begging you. Who am I?”
Kurama placed his free hand over hers and gave them a gentle squeeze. His tender smile held a note of pain. “We’ll figure that out once we get you home.”
Ali swallowed her tears. “Right.” He wasn’t going to tell her either.
A/N: The beginning of this chapter was fun to write because Ali’s past self starts to slip through. The “Split” in the chapter title refers to her split consciousness, the very thing Koenma and the detectives were speculating about at the end of the previous chapter. Unlike Kurama and Youko, Ali is unaware of her “other half” slipping through.