A/N: Here it is! The first chapter to the sequel of The Dance of Two Hearts! I am sorry it's taken so long (a month and half, I think?) but I took a little break to gather some ideas and to get a stock pile of chapters going so that I can update regularly for at least a little bit. I would like to thank everyone who reviewed the last chapter of Dance and I hope that this story does not disappoint. I could go on for a while in this note, but considering the outrage at the cliff hanger at the end of my last story, I will just let you get the answers to all the questions I left. Please review and enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Yu Yu Hakusho or any of the related terminology, characters, etc. I only own my OCs.
She could feel it.
All of it.
Long, filthy nails skimming over her skin. Oily, stringy orange hair dragging across her cheek and between her breasts as a greedy, coarse tongue explored her torso. The tickling, tingly feeling of the paralysis serum flowing through her veins. She could even feel the pebbles and the slippery old banana peel under her back where she was pinned to the ground and a set of hungry eyes on all of her most private parts. But there was one thing so strong that it nearly overshadowed everything else she could feel.
Strangely enough, as she heard the zipper on his pants being pulled downward, she realized she had heard nothing for quite some time. It was as if cotton swabs had been stuffed in her ears, blocking out everything that may have distracted her from what was happening. But that one noise sent her heart into overdrive, terror pumping adrenaline fast and hard throughout her body.
Suddenly, she was plunged into a whole new world of sensations.
The nails that before had only skimmed now sank into her skin; she could feel blood budding to the surface and running down over the curve of her hips. Sweat pattered onto her face, bringing an awful stench to her nose. She wished paralysis was synonymous with numb. Her insides felt as if they were being torn apart, the slam of clumsy hips with no thought to her comfort was doubtless leaving contusions on her fair skin. Her body was rocking with the force of his movement, the skin of her back scraping against the dirty pavement and being torn up by jagged pebbles.
But gods, nothing was worse than the feeling of hot liquid being released inside of her. As she looked up into the face of the nightmare which had plagued her for so many years, all she could see was the cruelty of selfish use; that's all it was. She had been used – violated – purely for the benefit of the monster before her. And as he laughed and turned to walk away, the helplessness and the feeling of vulnerability which had overcome her since falling to the ground grew. Because there she lay, stranded in the middle of an alleyway, unable to move and bare to the world…
"Shh, koi, it's okay; nothing is here that can hurt you."
Hiei nuzzled his nose against Mai's neck. He had sat up and pulled her into his lap as soon as she started whimpering. Her honey waves tumbled over his shoulder as he tucked her beneath his chin as she began to scream. The fire apparition was at a loss for what to do. He didn't want to shake her at all, lest it remind her of the incident she was surely having nightmares about. It had only been a couple of days and everything was still fresh in her mind.
Although, he thought with a frown, I think this will always haunt her.
Pushing the angering thoughts aside, he held his mate tighter as her screams began to quiet and all that was left to remind her of the dream were the tears running in torrents down her cheeks. He cooed softly in her ear, whispering words of comfort and sweet nothings. She clung to him, just as desperately as she had the night it happened. Her fingers clutched at his shirt, taking as much of it into her palm as she could. Her continued sobs brought on a pang that rang in his chest. His mouth ran dry and he was almost shaking with a mixture of fury and powerlessness. There was nothing he could think to do for her, no way to take away the pain. All he could do was be there with her as she suffered.
As she settled down and her tears had slowed, Hiei settled her back beneath the covers. He stayed right beside her, letting her back rest against his side.
So much had changed.
Koenma had been alerted almost immediately. He had so far been unsuccessful at narrowing down who the culprit could be from the description Hiei provided via Mai's memories. She couldn't talk about it – she barely spoke at all anymore. She also couldn't stand to be alone. He could still hold her, and she often craved the feeling of it, but she now recoiled from his touch if he was not wearing a shirt. It was too much skin, and she didn't well even when he wore his tanktops. Thus, the fire apparition had taken to donning long sleeved shirts despite his higher than average body temperature. Furthermore, Mai didn't want to leave her apartment; she had confined herself, not even venturing next door to see her other friends. Hiei knew they were concerned and figured they should expect a visit quite soon to check up on her. Especially from Yusuke, the Spirit Detective with a big brother complex. When he was honest with himself, the dark haired male dreaded the inevitable visit. He had no clue how Mai would react, but was quite sure it would not be terribly positive. Each night was mostly sleepless for both of them now, as well. Every time Mai fell asleep she dreamt of the attack. And every night Hiei lay beside her, heart breaking at her pain and drowning in guilt that he was the cause of it all.
The brand she now sported, scarred forever on the center of her rib cage, was a crest. The red mark was not huge, but large enough to have discernible features. It signified a clan that the Jaganshi himself had never encountered, but which he knew of quite well. Beneath her sweatshirt he knew there was a burn in the shape of a phoenix. Its head was reared back, beak open in a triumphant call. Clutched between its clawed feet was a dragon, its limbs limp and neck twisted at a horrid angle. Its tongue stuck out, an almost cartoonish symbol of death. Visible behind the figure were swords crossed over each other in an "X." It was the sign of the Firebird clan, a group whose only mission in life was the eradication of the Beasts of Hell. Top on that list was the Dragon of the Darkness Flame.
He knew as soon as he had mastered the Dragon – as soon as he became the vessel for it to live in outside of the pits of the Reikai – that the clan would come after him. It took many years longer than he had expected, and when it didn't happen, he had let his cockiness convince him that they knew they wouldn't stand a chance, or maybe that their tracking skills were beneath him. Frankly, the matter simply hadn't concerned him. Back then, it was only himself he looked out for and no one else mattered enough.
But now he had a mate which mattered more than anything else in the world. That should have opened his eyes to all of the very real possibilities of old enemies making themselves known. Now he had everything to lose, something so much worse than just his life.
Falling back onto his pillow in a fit of self-hatred, all the fire demon wanted was to be able to go back and have been with Mai that night. To have prevented the horrors which would change her and hang over her for the rest of her life. Another terrible chapter of her life, written by him with a hand of carelessness.
As the blonde beside him began to stir restlessly once more, he wrapped his arms around her, pressing his forehead to the nape of her neck as he continued to whisper words of safety and comfort to her.
"Koi, you need to eat something."
Mai looked up at her mate, wishing she could hide the exhaustion she knew was on her face. She knew she was keeping him up at night as well, but couldn't bear the thought of spending the night without him. Wordlessly, she accepted the half of an onion bagel he handed her. He placed the container of dairy free cream cheese in front of her with a knife, and she had to smile a little at how hard he was trying. After spreading the creamy white substance on her bagel, she took a bite and chewed on it thoroughly. Hiei sat across from her, a plain bagel with peanut butter in his hand. He looked apologetically down at the bagel, but they both knew it was good that he even learned to use the toaster. That had become necessary, though, after he had attempted to toast bread with the Mortal Flame. Mai didn't think she had ever seen such a blackened piece of toast, but had stomached the horrid breakfast regardless.
"I think that the fox and the two fools are coming over today."
The blonde nodded shortly, taking another nibble off her bagel in lieu of speaking.
"You know they are going to have to find out, right? They are going to be needed to-"
"I know, Hiei," she finally spoke up, her voice dry and raspy from lack of use. "Even if you felt they weren't needed, we both know Koenma would assign them to track down the Firebird clan."
He hummed an affirmation around the last bite of his own bagel. "Do you think you can tell them?"
"No," she muttered, her voice small and scared. "I still don't think I can say it."
Tears brimmed her eyes, a few falling. Hiei reached across the table for her hand, squeezing it tightly. "That's okay, you know."
"It… It's just a word b-but I-I can't…" she shook her head, eyes closing tightly. "I can't say it."
"It's okay, koi. You will be okay. Time," he promised.
She pushed her barely touched bagel across the table to him and stood up, heading in the direction of her room. A few moments later, the sound of the shower met his ears and he sighed. He was so lost with what to do.
"Yo, what's up, Shrimp?"
Hiei's eyebrow twitched slightly at Kuwabara's greeting. The orange haired human walked into Mai's apartment, heading to the living room.
"Where's my little sis?" Yusuke questioned, glancing around as he followed Kuwabara.
Kurama stepped to the side of the door and shut it behind him. Leaning down closer to Hiei's height, he asked in a hushed voice, "Is everything alright?"
The fire demon merely shook his head and frowned. Kurama nodded, knowing they would soon be learning something that was clearly important. The two demons made their way into the living room where Yusuke was seated in an armchair, Kuwabara on the couch. Kurama took the other end of the couch, leaving Hiei with the chair on the far side of the room by the window.
As the other three males chatted idly, Hiei listened for the sound of Mai padding down the hall. When the noise finally came, he let out a small sigh of relief that she had still felt able to see other people.
Mai froze for a second upon entering the room. Her breath caught in her chest before she reminded herself that these were her friends – that they were like brothers. Nonetheless she tried to slip quickly across the room to Hiei, where she knew she would feel more at ease. But only half way across the room, a hand closed unexpectedly around her wrist.
Yusuke pulled his hand back, alarmed at the scream Mai had let out when he had touched her. Hiei flitted to her and pulled her against him, hiding her face against his chest. His fingers combed through her hair and he muttered words no one else could hear. The small woman was trembling horribly as the other three males looked on wide-eyed.
Hiei pulled Mai back to his chair, settling her in his lap. He could feel her face aflame with embarrassment and frustration against his already warm skin as she settled into the crook of his neck.
"W-what just happened?" Kuwabara asked.
The Jaganshi looked around at his comrades. Mai squeezed the handful of his shirt she grasped harder, and he took it as a sign to just go for it. "The other night, Mai was raped."
The silence that filled the room was the longest the group had ever experienced together.
"No fucking way," Yusuke mumbled in disbelief. "Kazai is dead, I-"
"It was in no way related to that," Hiei explained. His right hand moved absently in circles over his mate's back as she trembled against him. "It was a warning. A warning directed at me."
Kurama's eyes narrowed sharply, knowing that any enemy of Hiei's was a great danger. "A foe from the past? A new one?"
"Both in a way," the shorter male replied. "It was a henchman of the Firebird clan."
"Who the hell are they?"
"Yeah, I've never even heard of 'em before!"
"Not surprising," Kurama began. "They have no interaction at all with the ningenkai; it doesn't concern them. The Firebird clan is an ancient group devoted to eliminating the Beasts from Hell - the powerful monsters from the pits of Spirit World that thrive on the dark flames of hell. There was the Sphinx, the Thunderbird, the Namazu, the Kraken and the Cobra. But the most deadly was their leader, the Dragon."
"Of the Darkness Flame," Yusuke inferred, crossing his arms moodily.
"Yes," Hiei spoke up again. "As I have heard, all of the beasts have been slain or at least contained by the clan except for the Dragon."
"Why do they wanna destroy them if they're so powerful?" Kuwabara asked.
Kurama turned to the orange haired human and answered, "Legends have it that someday the Beasts will be strong enough to unite and bring on the apocalypse. Most know it is simple superstition from a time where we did not know as much as we do today. The powers of the universe do not seek its end; people do. But the clan does not believe it."
"Well with all the others outta the way, why do they gotta worry about the Dragon still?"
"They fear the Dragon is powerful enough to free the other Beasts," Hiei answered.
"So what does all this legend crap gotta do with what happened?"
The fire demon took a breath, trying to sustain his emotionless, guilt-free façade. "The Dragon was never an attainable kill for them; they could not venture into the darkest depths of the Spirit World. But I was able to summon it and eventually master it. The Dragon lives within me and is part of me."
"So now that they can get to it, they are coming after you," Kurama filled in the blanks.
"Yes," he nodded. "They kill me, the Dragon is free and theirs for the killing."
Kuwabara put a hand to his chin thoughtfully, "Why warn you, though? If it was me, I'd've wanted to catch you off guard."
Crimson eyes slid down to the blonde in his arms, her face still hidden against his neck.
"But they did catch me off guard. I would never have guessed they would have taken the course of action they did."
"That doesn't answer why they sent a warning at all," Yusuke pointed out angrily.
"Because I know now what they can use against me."
The room was silent again for some time.
Kuwabara finally spoke up, "I still don't see how that would be their best plan."
"Shut up, Shorty, I-!"
"They warned Hiei because now he knows that they are willing to bring Mai into their battle for the Dragon. They can-" Kurama cut himself off, looking toward Hiei with eyes that questioned whether he should continue with the subject in the room.
She knows their reasoning. And she knows how effective it could be, he confirmed telepathically, letting the fox demon know he should continue his explanation.
Clearing his throat, the redhead pressed on, "The clan could threaten her, take her, harm her, make attempts to kill her, and have proven they are willing and capable of doing it. This is to their advantage because they know they can manipulate Hiei's actions by using her. They can draw him out, make him respond to their attacks in certain ways, or even-"
"Make me give up my life in exchange for hers," the fire demon finished coldly. Mai held onto him tighter, but remained silent and otherwise immobile.
"There's gotta be some way around that; they can't have control over your every move!" Yusuke yelled. "We gotta go back to protecting Mai all the time, make sure nothing can happen!"
"Hn, you may do what you want, Detective, but I think we all know that it won't matter what rules are in place if I decide that another course of action is necessary. I will do as I see fit, even if that means walking straight into my-"
"Don't say it!" Mai's voice cut him off, leaving him gazing wide-eyed down at her. She had pulled herself from him and had spoken louder than she had in days. Her moss eyes held sorrow and guilt. "Hiei, you cannot die for me."
He looked around at his three friends, watching them intently. Clearing his throat gruffly, he responded, "I won't promise that I will not do that."
"But you can't let them use me to hurt you!" she exclaimed, a new wave of tears flowing down her cheeks. "I am not worth it; I would never forgive myself if I was the cause of your death! Yusuke is right; we can find a way around this!"
"No one has to die," the Spirit Detective affirmed with conviction.
Pumping a fist in the air, Kuwabara declared, "Yeah, we're a team!"
Kurama remained silent, however, knowing that no matter how perfect a plan they could come up with, Hiei was not joking when he said he would abandon it all and die for his mate.
"We can discuss this at another time," the Jaganshi mumbled, not able to meet Mai's eyes when they were so full of sadness and guilt – emotions only he should have to bear to begin with. "For now, this is about helping you."
"Not in the long run, or for the preservation of your life should the need arise, but for your comfort and sense of security now."
She fell silent once more, allowing him to wrap her up in his arms again. Turning his eyes to the room, he said, "I believe it goes without saying that no one touches her, unexpectedly or not."
"Agreed," his comrades chorused.
"Hn. What else will help you, onna?"
"No bananas," she declared.
"Does that go for other phallic foods?" Kurama questioned interestedly.
"No, no that's not it at all," she shook her head. With a shudder, she admitted, "Sometimes I can still feel the banana peel beneath my shoulder."
Another tense silence filled the room before more rules were set. Mai just hoped she could get over needing them soon.
As feeble as that hope was.
"Don't even try to convince me to ignore what they will do to her, Kurama."
The fox demon gave his long-time friend a small smile as he sat in the armchair across from him. It was late, and the rest of their friends were asleep.
"I know I would be wasting my breath."
"Then why are you still here?"
"To tell you, instead, not to feel guilty."
Hiei actually laughed at that one. As if he could if he tried.
"I am serious," the fox pressed on. "It is not your fault that they went after Mai."
The fire demon rolled his neck idly, hearing the little "pop!" of the joints that were stiff from lying awake at night. Settling back in the chair, he turned to gaze out the window, though at nothing in particular.
"My mark is a target on her," he said finally.
The redhead turned his attention out the window as well. "I don't think she would trade that in for anything."
"Then maybe I shouldn't have allowed her to fall in love with me; it has caused nothing but trouble for her. It got her into trouble with Kazai, whom I couldn't even protect her from, it has catalyzed her family's efforts to murder their heir and now it has amounted to physical and emotional harm. She cannot sleep or eat, and sometimes she can't even speak. She cannot bear even the feeling of my skin touching hers." He lifted an arm, bringing attention to the long sleeved shirt he wore. "My presence does her no good anymore as she battles her nightmares, and I am not even good at calming her out of them. I cannot even fathom how I can help her or make things better, and yet today when I said I would let the clan kill me if she could live, she looked at me with guilt. Guilt she should not even carry."
"Hiei, there is little more emotionally devastating than what she went through. It is going to take all the help she can get to lift her back to her feet and make her feel normal again. And although she may not like the feeling of your skin, she can at least handle your touch in other ways," the fox pointed out. "But as for the guilt, can you imagine how you would feel in her place? Imagine you had been injured in a surprise attack that was meant to warn her that her family was making plans to move in. What if she told you that she would not let you suffer for her, and would die to save your life? How would you feel then?"
He considered it for a moment before conceding, "Guilty. I would never want her to feel like she had to die for me. I would want her to let me die so she could keep on living."
"That is likely Mai's thought process, too. Couple that with the feelings of worthlessness and the sense of being weak that the attack surely has resulted in, and it may even make more logical sense to her that she should die so you may live."
"Emotions are complicated," Hiei grunted moodily.
Kurama nodded, "They are. And although we have no plan of action and even though you are going to have to talk to Mai about all of this, I have a suggestion."
Hiei raised an eyebrow and the fox continued, "Go with her to see Mukuro."
"They hate each other," Hiei shook his head.
"But they will also understand each other. Mukuro can help you; she will understand Mai on a level you can only sympathize with. Mukuro will have empathy, and that could make the difference. Besides," he added, a cunning smile on his face, "Perhaps seeing her on an equal plain will motivate Mukuro to volunteer her own help against the Firebird clan."
Slowly, Hiei nodded. "The only problem will be convincing Mai to come."