Kurama was waiting for Ali when she woke. She regarded him with a stern frown. “Did you even move all night?”
“I assure you I got plenty of sleep in my own bed,” he chuckled. He did seem rested, but then he always did. “How did you sleep?”
“Wonderfully,” she announced. “Nothing out of the ordinary, for once,” she added ruefully. She tossed the blankets off her legs and swung her feet to the floor. “I’m famished. Is breakfast ready?”
“I believe so,” he said. “We can discuss things while you eat and then see if Sayuri has had breakfast brought to her yet.”
As she ate, he explained what information Koenma had advised them to give Sayuri and what to avoid. She knew she wasn’t human, but whether she had made the connection to demon world was yet to be determined. She knew of the different realms at least. “And she knows we are not in our truest forms. That alone may lead her to the conclusion that we are all demons masquerading as humans, though she may not know why she is.”
Ali shoved a clump of rice in her mouth and swallowed hard. “Do we even know why she is?”
“Koenma suspects it was your doing,” Kurama shrugged. “Best not to bring that up in front of her though.”
Ali bit back a snarl. She didn’t even know she could do that. How much had she forgotten how to do since coming to the human realm? “What can I talk to her about, then?”
“Keep it simple. Shared memories. The earlier the better. Start at the beginning and work your way forward.”
“I guess that could work.” She scraped the bowl of the last few grains of rice. She could have eaten three more, but she was eager to talk to Sai. “Anything else?” Kurama’s grin faltered, became sad. “What?”
“Just talk about your memories of each other for now. Don’t ask her about me. Or Hiei.”
Why couldn’t she ask about Hiei? That was the question that had burned the hardest in her since his hand had appeared next to hers on Sayuri’s sarcophagus in the cryo lab. She also feared the answer to that question, however, so she promised not to ask it. Not yet anyway.
They brought Sayuri a tray with plenty to choose from. Rice, eggs, fish, chicken, fruit, soup. She ate it all. Turned out, not eating for a decade and a half could leave one feeling starved. It also provided a perfect opportunity to leap down memory lane.
Sai recalled a time when food was scarce and they’d had to ration their scraps. Ali remembered a harsh winter when they’d had to travel to another tribe’s land to beg for assistance. Both remembered the years of abundance when the Gathering was held and they were reunited with cousins and old friends alike. It was a time of celebration and renewal, news exchanged and alliances formed.
“We made so many friends that first Gathering,” Sai giggled. “Nao and Ikumi.”
“Saito and Kanaye!” Ali supplied.
“We were both Sai!” she laughed. “And Kanaye had that brother with a similar name to him.”
“That’s right! They were trouble, though.”
Ali shivered. “Kane always creeped me out.”
“Agreed.” Sayuri shook her head as if to shake him clean of her memory. She paused thoughtfully. “Yuki was a genuine sweetheart though.”
“He really was.” Ali nodded vigorously as the image of a young boy with pale hair and a tender smile popped into her mind’s eye. If he had grown up, he might have looked a bit like the Yuki she knew in the human world. She laughed. “One day I’ll have to introduce you to Kurama’s classmate. He could be Yuki’s twin, and he shares the name!”
Sai’s smile turned sad. “That might be nice.”
The mood changed in the room. Ali wasn’t sure if it was something in the memories or if Sai was simply tired, but she felt it as good a time as any to take her leave and let her sister rest. “I probably should get to school,” she said. “I’ll come by tonight afterwards?”
Sayuri nodded. “Of course. I don’t suppose I’ll be going very far any time soon. Not until I regain my strength, anyway.”
“We’ll spar when you do!” Ali thrust an arm up and gripped her bicep.
“You might finally be able to beat me as I am,” she said with a sly grin.
“In your dreams!” The sisters touched knuckles all the same before Ali left for school.
For the next several weeks, Ali fidgeted all through her classes, debating skipping her afternoon classes to spend more time with Sai. She remembered more with each day and the more Sayuri remembered, the more Ali remembered too.
It only took a couple days for Sai to remember she was a demon and that the tribes she had discussed so candidly on that first morning were actually tribes of wolf demon packs. They talked about how the Prophecy had shaped their childhood, how they had been forced to run for much of it, how they had finally grown strong enough to stand against it.
Sayuri slowly regained some strength with each passing day. They spent many of their conversations walking about the estate. The stronger she became, the more their talk shifted to fighting and memories of battles fought. Sayuri had spent more time fighting than Ali had. It wasn’t that Ali had been weak, but her strengths came in other ways.
They did not talk about the rift that had formed between them. The one that had led Sayuri to seek more power and grow strong enough to rival the three demon kings. They did not talk about the man who had come between them, who had tried to have them both and failed. They did not talk about the day they met again on the battlefield, the last of their people. Such things were much too painful to talk about.
But the closer they came to those answers, the harder it became to talk of those memories. Sayuri shut her down as often as not, unable—or unwilling—to face them. Her temper was sharpened and her fuse shortened. Ali became keenly aware of Hiei’s absence in those moments.
Whenever things became tense between them though, Sai pressed Ali about her own life. She wanted to know what the world was like now, what Ali was doing in school, if she was making friends, if she had a boyfriend. That last tripped her up. Truthfully, she didn’t know where she was in the relationship market. She had been on plenty of dates with Yuki, but with all her free time spent reminiscing with Sayuri, she hadn’t actually talked to him in a couple weeks. And then there was Hiei.
But Hiei was still a taboo subject. He was often visiting Sayuri just before Ali came by, or else predisposed. He had hardly spoken two words to her since the night they had brought Sayuri home. Kurama was still reporting to meditation duty in his stead, which was probably for the best. She had memories of Hiei from before. Memories that often came while she meditated. Memories that made no sense when taken with what little she understood of Sayuri’s partnership with him. Perhaps it was time to broach that subject.
She spent the whole day rehearsing what she would say to Sai to make her talk about Hiei, but the lines flew away with the wind that brought arguing voices to her ears across the courtyard. She ducked behind a tree before shaking her head at her own foolishness. Why should she hide? She peered around the trunk.
Sayuri was pacing in front of Hiei, her braided hair whipping behind her every time she turned. “I can’t do this anymore.” She sounded frustrated. Ali watched Hiei’s reaction. He said nothing, just watched Sayuri. “You know what she is. What she’s done. How can you protect her?”
“It’s my job,” he said flatly. Those words stung Ali like a thousand nettles.
Sayuri stopped her pacing and glowered at him. “Bullshit.” She jabbed a finger in his chest. “You’d never work for Koenma, even if it meant he’d clear your record.”
He grabbed her wrist and pulled her finger away from him. “Some things,” he said coldly, “have changed.”
Color rose in her porcelain-smooth cheeks. She jerked her hand free of his grasp. “I liked you better when you weren’t so soft. I remember you never hesitated to kill for what you wanted. When you answered to no one.”
“I remember I answered to you,” he said softly, a spoken caress so uncharacteristic of Hiei. Ali’s cheeks flushed to mirror Sayuri’s. It reminded her of Christmas. When he had promised not to make her cry anymore. When he had kissed her. When everything had gone wrong. Her heart caught in her throat as a sense of impending doom sent chills down her spine.
Sayuri, for her part, faced him with arms folded across her chest and face smooth of emotions. “But that was a long time ago. For you.” It was a question and Hiei nodded. Sayuri’s eyes darkened. “And now I wake to find you with her.” She practically spat the word.
“It’s… complicated,” he said carefully. Ali admired his bravery in admitting that much to a woman who appeared ready to slit his throat.
“What’s so complicated, Hiei? Did you think to replace me with her? Because we look so much alike?” Her words dripped with venom. “Was it all the same to you? Did you ever even love me?” Ali wished she had turned and left when she first stumbled on them arguing. She didn’t want to hear anymore, but she couldn’t leave without making her presence known now.
“I didn’t even remember you until a month ago. Or her,” he added hurriedly. He was lucky that looks couldn’t kill because Sai was glaring daggers at him now. “You know how I felt. That hasn’t changed. I can never change who I am.”
That had an effect on her, though Ali could not discern why. Sayuri’s dark eyes softened and she took his face in her hands. “You’re right. I know. When I woke up in this world, my greatest fear was that you might have found another. I thought I might be able to bear it, but then you were with her and I wished it were anyone else.”
Hiei took her hands from his face and held them gently. “You don’t have to be afraid.”
Ali stifled a gasp as she watched her sister snake her arms around Hiei’s neck to draw him in to a passionate kiss. When she pulled away from him, she was frowning. “You say that, but then you don’t even react to my kissing you. What have you been doing with Rin all this time?”
He made a hissing sound as the name escaped her lips, but it wasn’t loud enough to cover it. That single syllable brought Ali’s world crumbling around her. The name she had forsaken, her true name. A torrent of Rin’s memories flooded Ali’s mind and she struggled as hard to hold on as she had in Makai.
The surge in her power had to have been felt by Sai and Hiei. She couldn’t face them now, so she ran. She ran faster than she ever had before, now that she remembered how. She held back the tears as she fled to the coast. Tears of shame and anger blurred her vision, but she would not let them fall.
She wasn’t angry with Sayuri or Hiei, of course. She was angry with herself for having been so foolish. To think she could live as a human and run away from her destiny. To think Sayuri would let her live in peace. To think she could have shared something with Hiei.
She stopped at the edge of the forest looking out over the ocean as a memory of him came to her. One of Rin’s memories, clear and vivid for once, not foggy and confused. He cleaned and dressed a wound on her arm. The half-moon scar on her shoulder was faded now, but it burned anew with the fresh memory. It wasn’t the only injury she’d had that day, covered in blood as she was, but it was the only one she could remember him dressing.
None of that was really important though. She could not remember Sayuri being there. He had tended to her as Rin, had looked at her as Rin with the same softness he had just had with Sayuri in the present. He had held her as she wept and whispered promises to get her back to Youko the next day. He urged her to get some sleep, which she gratefully did, wrapped in his arms.
The trouble with her disordered memories was that she had no frame of reference for them. When had that memory taken place? Why wasn’t she with Youko? Hiei should have been with Sayuri. What was he doing with her—with Rin?
The snap of a branch and a low, keening snarl were all the warning Ali had before Sayuri plowed into her, taking them both to the ground. They rolled to a stop dangerously close to the cliff edge. Panting as she realized how close to mutual destruction they had just come, Sayuri climbed off of Ali and hauled her to her feet by the collar of her uniform.
“What are you playing at?” Her voice quavered and Ali saw fear blended with the anger in her sister’s chocolate eyes. Sayuri believed there was something between Ali and Hiei. For a wonder, she realized she could easily read Sayuri now. When she didn’t answer though, Sai slapped her full across her face. “Hiei is mine,” she growled. “You’ll stay away if you know what’s good for you.”
Ali watched Sayuri’s eyes flicker to the cliff behind her, saw the hatred-laced thought of bringing a swift closure to the Prophecy, right then and there, float across her mind. That wasn’t how it was supposed to happen, though, and the ephemeral plan evaporated with the wind.
Sai lifted her chin and folded her arms casually across her chest. “I don’t care what you do as long as you stay out of my way. Again,” she added, a memory of this same exchange happening between them decades ago. She turned and fled without waiting to see if Ali would acquiesce. Maybe she just expected it. Rin had always done as Sayuri told her.
With Rin’s memories in her head, Ali really had no choice but to leave. She had to put as much distance between herself and Sayuri as possible. She was sure that fateful day fifteen years ago would repeat itself if they remained in close proximity. Whatever had broken Rin, Ali didn’t think she could face it.
There was someone she had to find. With luck, she would still be at the Sanctuary. Ali prayed to the ancestors she only vaguely remembered as she bent reality around the barrier between worlds. Please. Let one person still want me.
The air shimmered in front of her the same as it had the day she and Hiei had rescued Sayuri. Her chest tightened at the thought of leaving him without so much as a goodbye. It would serve him right if she disappeared on him, for the months he had left her alone without ever saying two words to her. She thought she understood, now, and she was grateful for the time they did have together. She wished that made her heart ache less.
Ali sighed. She clutched the locket at her neck. It was pointless to wish for the moon. It would never answer the howl. She just had to move forward without looking back.
That was what she told herself, but she couldn’t resist one last glance at the human world before she would leave it forever. The trees she loved so much had one last parting gift for her waiting at the edge of the forest.
A/N: I came upon a wrinkle when doing my rewrites of this story when I realized it made little sense for Ali’s demon name to be the same as her human disguise. That name was given to her by her human parents; how could they possibly know her name? Besides which, the whole point of sealing her memories was to avoid facing her trauma in the first place. If she kept the same name, she would have been discovered sooner. Obviously, there was precedent for this in the canon. Kurama’s human name is Shuiichi Minamino. The difference being, he remembered he was a demon all those years.