“You should get some rest,” Kurama said for the hundredth time since Ali and Hiei had returned with Sayuri. They were sitting together in her old room at Koenma’s estate watching the healers and aides tend to Sai in the bed. Koenma had been furious that they had breached the barrier and entered Makai without permission, but he was relieved that they had returned at all, and with Sayuri as well.
As much as he had wanted to keep her in Spirit World, he could not risk it, and so sent her to his estate in the human world. Hiei had objected, saying the security was much too lax. Ali remembered the guards from her own stay at the estate and couldn’t help agreeing with him. Koenma informed them he had replaced those guards with members of the S.D.F., Spirit World’s elite fighting squad. That had been enough for Hiei—Ali meant to ask him about them later—so they brought Sayuri to Human World.
“I’m fine,” she muttered. Her body ached from all the fighting she had put it through and the energy she had expended. She was tapped out, but it was like the well had also been half filled in when she left Makai. While she was there, her energy had been so raw and potent and deep. She hadn’t held that much power since… well, before. She didn’t want to think too hard on that.
Kurama was frowning at her. He was still disappointed with her for not asking for his help. Three could have fared better than two. She would never have put him through that, though. How many of her friends had she been forced to kill? The false Youko’s words still echoed in her mind. Traitor. No, better not to think on that either. Truthfully, she was terrified to fall asleep. “I need to be here if she wakes.”
Hiei’s hand on her shoulder startled her. “I’ll stay in case she wakes up.” His eyes were intent on Sayuri as the aides stripped his cloak off of her and folded it neatly at the end of the bed.
She scowled at him. “You’re just as tired as I am!”
“You fought more of them than I did,” he shot back with a glower to match hers. That one look made her realize he was probably just as afraid to shut his own eyes. She remembered hearing Yukina’s voice at one point and only just now realized what that implied.
“Hiei.” She said it softly and he looked away from her, taking his hand back and shoving it in a pocket before she could grasp it in hers. Somehow, that small return to normalcy melted the tension from her muscles. She fought down a mad giggle. Stretching her arms over her head she said, “Fine. I’ll at least go take a bath. I won’t promise to take a nap though.”
Kurama smiled relief as he stood with her. “It’s a start, at least. I’ll see if Botan is free to help.”
Botan was eager to be of assistance, and giggled as she remarked on the similarity to Ali’s first night in the estate nine months ago. “Hard to believe you’ve been with us almost a whole year! Your hair has gotten long since you’ve been here. Shall I braid it for you?” Ali let her do as she pleased. Botan’s voice was a welcome distraction from her thoughts.
The bath relaxed her enough that she struggled to keep her eyes open once she was out of it. Kurama ignored her protests as he escorted her to another room, vaguely promising to wake her after an hour. Her body was fatigued enough that she knew she would sleep for days if no one woke her so she hoped he wasn’t just paying her lip service.
It was definitely more than an hour later when he gently shook her awake. The sun had gone down. She opened her mouth to scold him but he spoke first. “She’s awake.”
Ali spluttered as if he had doused her with a bucket of ice water. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
He shrugged. “I’ve been trying to wake you for ten minutes. I was about to get a bucket.” She scrambled out of bed and made for the door. Sayuri. She would finally be able to talk to Sayuri. Kurama caught her by the arm. “Hold on. You can’t just go bursting in there.”
She jerked at his grip. “She’s my sister!”
“I know, and you’ve both been through a lot.” He stressed the word “both.”
She understood. “Oh. Right.” Sayuri’s own memories were probably all jumbled up. And she had been in stasis for so long before her kidnapping, who could say how that had affected her?
“We’ll go in together, okay?” His grip on her arm relaxed.
“Right.” She hardly noticed as he guided her up the hall with his hand at the small of her back. Would Sayuri even recognize her? She was no longer a wolf demon. Not in form, anyway. Why had she fought so hard against her transformation in the demon world? Surely that could have given her an advantage. Then again, Sayuri looked perfectly human. Why? What had happened the day she had sealed everyone’s memories?
Hushed voices reached her ears as Ali and Kurama approached the door to Sayuri’s room. A man and a woman, talking quietly. Hiei’s voice became clearer as they entered the room. The woman’s voice was just as Ali had heard it earlier in the day, but this was no imposter. They fell silent and Sayuri eyed her cautiously as she approached.
Suddenly Ali felt very small under that gaze. Sayuri had always been her protector and knight. She was the stronger of them, more powerful in every way save telepathy. That alone was Ali’s. Twins, but Sayuri was her big sister. Ali had idolized her growing up and long after they were both adults. Sitting straight upright, pillows behind her back supporting her, hands folded on the blanket at her waist, ebony hair drawn loosely over her shoulder, she looked every bit as regal as Ali remembered.
Ali fidgeted with the locket at her neck. She took a deep breath, as if she were about to plunge into a raging river, and met her sister’s gaze. “Hi, Sai.”
Sayuri’s eyes flitted to Hiei for the briefest of moments. Ali wasn’t even sure she had seen it. “Hello, Ali, is it?”
Her heart sank just a little. She had hoped Sayuri would remember her true name. “Yes. That is the name I was given when I came to this world.” The name was not the most important thing anyway. “How are you feeling?”
Sayuri frowned. She even made that look beautiful. “Like I have been asleep for a very long time,” she said. “I am having difficulty remembering things. I barely remembered my own name.” Again her eyes flashed to Hiei’s. This time Ali was sure of it.
She tried to lighten the mood. “Well, you’re not wrong. It has been about fifteen years since we last saw each other. You’ve been in cryo all this time.”
Sayuri absently rubbed her arms. “Is that why I feel like I can’t get warm?”
“Probably.” Ali shifted her feet nervously. “What can you remember?”
Sayuri narrowed her gaze at Ali. “I just said I’m having trouble remembering, didn’t I?”
Well it was good to know her temper had thawed. “You did, but I want to know what you do remember. Any scraps you can give me, I’ll gladly take them.”
Her twin shook her head with a sigh. “It’s all confused. Is there something specific you want to know?”
Again Ali fidgeted with her locket. “Do you remember me?”
“I remember a twin,” she said carefully. “And I cannot deny the similarities between you and I. But aside from that, nothing.”
Ali’s heart sank further. “What about the day we were all separated? What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Pain.” Sayuri balled her fists in the sheets. “I remember pain,” she whispered.
Sayuri glowered at her. “Why? Did you do something?”
Hiei interrupted them. “She’s just sympathetic to your suffering.” Sayuri’s face softened as she turned back to him. “Some things haven’t changed.”
Sayuri looked from him to Ali and Kurama. “It would seem many things have. You two, for instance, are not quite as I remember.” She frowned at her own hands. “Nor am I. This body… it feels wrong.”
“Do you know where you are?” Ali asked hesitantly. Hiei shot her a warning look. She wished she knew what they had told her already. How long had she been conscious before Kurama woke Ali?
Sayuri looked around the room, taking in the high ceiling with its crown molding, the large windows on the exterior walls, the scant furnishings. Ali remembered thinking the room too luxurious when she spent a week here and now found herself wondering if it was enough luxury for Sai. “This is the human realm, isn’t it?”
“It was the safest place to bring you while you recovered,” Hiei said in a tone that sounded rehearsed. “Your body has been out of use for a decade and then some.”
She nodded as if she had heard this before. Then she sighed. “I’m sorry, Ali. I am sure you have more questions for me, but as foolish as it seems, I could use some more sleep.”
“Of course.” Ali’s voice didn’t even quiver. It was ok if they didn’t talk right away. They had plenty of time to sort through things together.
A faint smile parted Sayuri’s lips as she added, “You look like you could use about fifteen years of sleep yourself right about now.”
Tears formed in the corners of Ali’s eyes as she failed to suppress a giggle. Everything would be ok if Sayuri could crack jokes like that so soon. “I dunno about fifteen, but maybe five or ten years would be enough to recover from rescuing you.”
“My, my, how the tables have turned. It’s nice to be the one in need of saving for once instead of always pulling your hide from a fire.” Sayuri teased. They both laughed at that. “I promise not to sleep that long again,” she added.
“We’ll talk in the morning,” Ali agreed.
Kurama and Hiei followed her out of the room, though Hiei hesitated before following. He kept glancing over his shoulder at Sai’s room the whole way down the hall to Ali’s room. At one point he looked on the verge of turning back and Ali grabbed him forcefully by the wrist. “We need to talk,” she said with a meaningful look for Kurama as well. “Both of you.”
Tired as she was, she could not sleep until she knew what was going on. There were far too many secretive glances going around for her liking, and she needed the full story before she accidentally said the wrong thing in front of Sayuri.
Her room was smaller than Sai’s, but furnished much the same. A reading chair instead of a chaise, a full sized bed instead of a king, but the dresser and vanity were about the same. Ali sat in the armchair—she didn’t trust herself getting into the bed—and frowned at the two men. “What in the worlds is going on?”
Kurama took a step toward her with a placating gesture. “Ali, there is nothing-“
She cut him off with a snarl. “I’m not a moron.” She raised her eyebrows meaningfully. Her telepathy was still blocked, but they didn’t know that. She could use that to her advantage to press them into telling her everything she wanted to know.
Hiei’s disdainful grin upended all that. “Then why are you trying so hard to get us to tell you what you want to hear?” Her cheeks flushed. “If you already know everything, what difference does it make if we speak it?”
“Hiei.” Kurama’s eyes were as hard as his voice.
“Better yet, if you know everything, why did you ask Sayuri those things? If you’re such a wise woman, we shouldn’t need to brief you on what questions are safe and which are not.” His words were knives in her heart. Despite Kurama’s protests, he was winding up for the killing throw. “You don’t know, though, do you? Your psychic abilities are being stifled.”
“What?” Kurama looked at her, mouth agape. “Ali? What does he mean?”
She held Hiei’s gaze despite the pain it caused her. How had he known? “It has been more difficult, of late,” she admitted. “But I am not completely blocked. I can tell the Manawydans from everyone else now.”
Hiei’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. “How?”
“They’re better than me. Stronger.”
She pushed down her anger. She would not let her cheeks color any further. “So. When they take on the form of someone who I know is not a psychic stronger than me, I can tell them by my inability to break their mental defenses.”
Hiei’s glower did not relent. “If you can’t break anyone’s mental defenses, how do you tell the difference?”
“I had no trouble with my powers in Makai. It’s only been since we returned that I’ve been blocked!” She gripped the arms of the chair. “Your emotions were in turmoil while fighting Sai. I remember that much, but I can’t read you now.”
He staggered back as if slapped. It took every ounce of her strength not to clap her hand over her mouth for revealing that much. Had she been less fatigued, she might have. His face could have chilled the koorime. “I told you long ago to stay out of my head.” His voice could cut diamonds.
Two could play that game. “And I told you not to lie to me.”
The air between them became so heavy Ali wondered if her voice could even reach him anymore. What had happened to them? The last time they’d had this exchange was Christmas Eve. That was when everything had changed. The confrontation. The kiss. The Manawydan attack.
They had ruined everything, she decided. Just when she had finally had a breakthrough with him, the Manawydans had appeared and destroyed it. He ran away from her after that. Until he returned and fought them at her side.
She sighed. They had destroyed them together. They had fought for a single purpose, to bring Sai home, and they had succeeded. “I think it has been a long day for all of us,” she said. Kurama hadn’t fought as she and Hiei had, but he had worried over her safety, and she knew that could be just as draining as physical fighting. “This chair is the only thing holding me upright at the moment. We can go over talking points in the morning.”
Hiei gave a non-committal grunt before stalking out of the room. Kurama helped her to her bed. “I think that is wise.” He pulled the blankets to her chin and smoothed her hair away from her face. “I would like to hear more about this block you are dealing with. And we will discuss Sayuri in the morning as well.”
Ali nodded appreciatively as she fell asleep. Her dreams were full of the day’s events, but thankfully no nightmares accompanied them.