Wolf demons. The War. Sayuri. Hiei’s mind latched onto those three thoughts as ancient memories assaulted his senses. Sayuri was alive. Sayuri, powerful and beautiful and terrible, who had loved him. That thought was inconceivable, and yet the memory remained. How many nights had they lain together?
No. If she had loved him, she wouldn’t have kept her twin a secret from him. The other half of the Legend. Just as powerful. Just as beautiful. How had he become her protector? A crimson memory. Or was it a dream?
A fog was clearing in his head. A fog that had always been there. The uneasiness he had felt upon the first day he had met her, was that when he became aware of it? Like a sudden awareness of his own breathing, his own body, but it was a blank period in his mind. Now that hole was being filled piece by piece.
Kurama should be the one returning to Koenma to report her safe recovery, not Hiei. But then he would have had to stay with her, and he wasn’t confident he could control his emotions around her anymore. He needed time to process what he had seen. He would have to face her sooner or later, though. If only to get answers.
Answers. Koenma had the answers, Hiei was sure of that. The man was not nearly so inept as he seemed. At the very least, he knew far more than he let on. He was not even the least bit surprised when Hiei returned to his office.
“Did Kurama find you?” he asked.
Hiei nodded. “How did she slip out of here unnoticed?”
Koenma rested his chin on folded fingers. “It would seem our amnesiac friend is rediscovering her old powers, though I suspect she is not fully awakened to them yet.”
“What game are you playing at, Koenma?” The young prince affected an innocent expression. Hiei hardened his glower. “The most frightening demons Spirit World ever faced have been incapacitated and you’re trying to reawaken one of them?”
“It was going to happen one way or another,” Koenma said. “What was begun must come to an end.”
“It was as good as ended!” Hiei scoffed.
Koenma shook his head. “They’re both still alive. Until one or both of them has died, it won’t be over. That’s how Prophecy works, Hiei. At least this way, I can closely monitor the situation.” The fire demon shook his head doubtfully. “I take it your own memories of those years have returned?”
There was no point lying to the man. “Some of them,” he admitted.
“So what will you do?”
Hiei frowned at the question. “What do you mean?”
Koenma narrowed his gaze. “If and when it comes down to it, which one will you fight for?”
“Why would I fight for either of them?” Hiei shoved his fists in his pockets. “It’s not my fight.”
He didn’t like the skeptical look Koenma gave him. “We’ll see,” he said. Blessedly, he changed the subject. “So, Kurama is with her now?”
Hiei nodded. “She was acting really strange just before he showed up. Calling out to me and asking me questions about my actions, questioning my motives. Then she seemed surprised to find herself talking to me.” Koenma’s face remained impassive as Hiei spoke. “Her aura is changing. It feels more demonic now. She won’t be safe in the human world if it gets much stronger.”
Koenma sighed. “Would you have me send her back to the demon world?” Hiei’s back stiffened. She would be torn apart there as she was. “We’ve seen how well she stays put here. The human world is the best place for her right now. We’re just going to have to keep a constant watch on her.”
“What about Sayuri?”
“What about her?”
“Are you really planning to leave her asleep?”
Koenma paused a moment before replying. “I have no intentions of waking her. However, I know my intentions will matter little in the face of fate. Still, I will do what I can to stall that day.” Hiei didn’t ask what the man could do. He wouldn’t get an answer anyway.
His report delivered, he returned to Ali’s. She and Kurama sat at her coffee table, hands wrapped around steaming mugs of tea. He wasn’t sure what to make of her relieved expression as he entered the living room. Kurama said nothing as he brought his own cup to his lips and took a pointed sip.
“I’d ask you if I could get you anything to drink but I know you’ll refuse,” Ali said as a way to break the silence. Hiei shook his head and leaned against the wall opposite her. She shrank in her seat. “I’m sorry.”
Her eyes fell to her tea, her hands tightening on the mug. “I’ve been nothing but trouble for you since you met me.” He wondered if she knew just how true that was. How much of her own memory had returned? “I’ve been nothing but trouble to anyone who knew me.”
“What makes you say that?” Hiei was glad Kurama didn’t try to dissuade her or offer her platitudes. He wanted to know as much as Hiei how much she remembered.
Ali continued to stare into the dark liquid, as though she might divine the answers she sought by peering into it. “I haven’t quite sorted out my past life, but ever since I arrived in the human world I’ve only brought suffering to those around me. My mother. My father.” She paused, her face becoming dark as she recalled them. “I think he knew what I was. He tried to tell me before he died, but I didn’t understand.”
“You shouldn’t blame yourself then,” Kurama said soothingly. “He knew and he still protected you as a father would.”
“But I wasn’t even his child,” she whispered. “Why would he do that for me?”
“Humans are similar to wolves in some ways. Particularly in their pack bonding mentality. Whatever his reasons for adopting you were, there was nothing you could have done to stop him from trying to keep you safe.”
“What did he tell you?” Hiei asked.
She looked up at him as if startled to hear his voice. “He told me I wasn’t human,” she answered after a moment. “That that was the reason I did not age as he did. He and his wife had wanted a child so badly, but she was frail and unable to conceive. One night he had a dream that he would be blessed with a daughter. While he was out hunting the next day, a huge white wolf appeared on the trail. It beckoned him to follow and then led him to me.
“He said the wolf then spoke to him somehow. Told him I would need a new name for a new life as a human. I would be safe as long as I lived as a human.” She shook her head. “It didn’t make sense. Wolves couldn’t speak. But when he told me that, something changed inside me. I knew he was telling the truth. That had been no ordinary wolf. And I knew that whatever it had been, I was similar to it.”
“And so you buried him, burned the house, and fled into the mountains?” Kurama summarized the aftermath of the hunter’s demise. She nodded. “You never remembered anything from before you woke up in the human world?”
“Only flashes and dreams, as quickly forgotten as waking up.”
“And what about now?” Hiei grew weary of their dancing about the subject.
Her back stiffened. Kurama turned a level gaze at him. “There’s so much,” she said. “I don’t understand any of it.” She took a deep breath and eyed each of them in turn. “The one thing I get is that you knew us. Me and Sai.” She gave him a pointed look. “You said so yourself at the overlook.”
Kurama’s eyebrow raised imperceptibly. Hiei didn’t try to deny it, though he also didn’t correct her assumption that he had only known Sayuri. “Yes,” he agreed. “I said I had known her.” Let her believe his relationship to her ended with her twin.
“So there really is nothing you can tell me to help me remember,” she sighed.
“Why do you wish to remember so badly?” Kurama asked.
“I need to know what it is I’m fighting against, Kurama. Something happened that day that broke me and somehow I erased all record of it. Except now that past is being unburied and if I don’t remember it first, I won’t be strong enough to beat it this time either.”
Her eyes seemed sharper now, her voice more confident. Hiei had sensed this change in her several times before, when her true spirit revealed itself. It was the same clarity she had spoken with when he came to her at the overlook, before she became confused. Had she truly been so weak?
Kurama regarded Ali for a long moment. He was deciding how much to tell her and the tightness in her jaw said she knew it. “When I was still a fox spirit in the demon realm, I was known as Youko.” Her eyes widened in recognition of the name. “There was a hidden place where you lived to avoid the fighting in the War. You invited me to stay there whenever I needed to lay low. After a while I began staying for longer and longer periods.”
“The Sanctuary,” she muttered. “It was my haven. But it had been lonely and I grew bored.” Her face scrunched as she fought to remember the place. “Someone else was there.”
“Another woman. A minor thief we had crossed paths with. She marked you a rival before becoming your friend and joining us in the Sanctuary.”
“Yes,” she whispered. “She was similar to us somehow.”
“An animal spirit, if I remember correctly, though not a wolf.” Hiei vaguely recalled another fighter with them on that fateful day. If the woman lived, she was probably struggling just as much as they were to remember those years.
Ali shook her head. The name was not coming to her and she had other questions to ask Kurama. “So we lived in that cabin,” she said, providing more detail than Kurama had, “and ventured out thieving?” She didn’t believe that last of herself.
“You did not venture out with me often. Though sometimes you would disappear on your own for days at a time. I never knew where you had been and you were curiously secretive about those trips.” He said this with a questioning air, as if by speaking it she would have answers for him. Hiei watched her face as Kurama spoke. It remained stoically passive. She had no answers for them either. “There was also a man who came to see you a couple times,” Kurama said cautiously.
Her eyes darkened. Hiei couldn’t see what went through her mind but he had seen that look before. She’d had that haunted look back before Christmas, the last night he had stood guard for her while she meditated, when he had carried her home. Earlier she said she’d flashed back to the demon world at that time, though she hadn’t known that was what it was, and his voice had brought her back. Kurama was calling to her now.
“Ali? Ali!” She was catatonic again. Whatever memory Kurama had triggered, it was still taboo. The door would not open. Kurama looked at him helplessly.
Hiei swallowed a sigh as he knelt at the table across from her. He did not want to be her lifeline, but he had to at least try to succeed where Kurama was failing. “Ali.”
She gasped as though doused with cold water, tears rolling down her cheeks. She locked eyes with him for a heartbeat. Her face flushed and she brought her tea to her lips with a muttered curse.
A knock at her door startled all three of them. Kurama and Hiei exchanged confused glances when they realized the other hadn’t noticed the unexpected arrival. Ali vigorously scrubbed her cheeks and left them in the living room to see who her guest was.
Hiei took advantage of her momentary distraction all the same. There are things she cannot be allowed to remember, he sent to Kurama.
The redhead nodded, sipping his tea. I would like to compare notes with you later.
Hiei grimaced. He also wanted to know what Kurama remembered of those days, but he didn’t want to share all he knew. The fewer people who knew the truth, the better.
Ali’s voice floated back to them from the kitchen as she returned. “Sorry about that,” she said as she settled back into her cushion at the table. “Yuki stopped by to make sure I was ok. Apparently when you get pulled from a date for a family emergency, your date will be concerned for you.” She laughed drily.
Hiei buried the irritation he felt upon hearing that man’s name again. He had hoped that distancing himself from her for a while would erase the foolish feelings she had brought about in him. He almost hadn’t cared when she mentioned who she had been with just before the meeting with Koenma, but now that he remembered their shared history, that irritation flared up again. He would have to ask Kurama about Yuki when they convened later.
“I am sorry,” Kurama said, and he even sounded it. “Those dates will likely have to be put on hold.”
“Koenma wants you under constant surveillance now,” Hiei told her. “It’s either that or he keeps you in Spirit World,” he added when she made to protest.
She put her head in her hands and sighed. “It’s probably for the best. I really don’t want to be left alone in my head anyway.”
Kurama reached over the table and took her hands in his. “I will stay with you tonight. We will figure it out from there.” He gave Hiei an apologetic glance. They would have to talk another night. Hiei was glad for the reprieve anyway.
He turned to leave. “Where are you going?” Panic tinged the edge of her voice.
“We are not your only protectors,” he reminded her. “I’m going to find the detective and make sure he understands his current duties.”
“Thank you Hiei,” she said. He left without looking back at her. He was afraid of the look he would see on her face if he did. He would have to face her eventually, but for now it was fine to keep her at arm’s length. Kurama would keep her safe tonight.
One night at a time. That was all they could do until fate inevitably found her again.