Grazhir :: Crossover :: Hisui :: 01

01: 1995-2001

“You come at her from behind and bump into her, and I’ll come to the rescue and distract her from you stealing her wallet.”

“How long?”

“Should be any minute now.”

He made a disgusted sound from his perch high up in a tree and materialized an obsidian senbon, then flicked it at the taller of the two. He smirked as the guy clapped a hand over his neck and cried out in pain a second time as the senbon pierced through his hand. Hisui released the construct into nothingness and fashioned another one, flicking that at the other brat, hitting him in the upper thigh.

Within a minute the two of them had fled the area, far too invested in their own pain to prey on the local populace. Their intended target strolled by without ever realizing she had been in danger of losing her hard-earned money. Fukushima Nana was his only real friend in Namimori, one of the very few who did not give him grief for coming from an orphanage.

He jumped down from the tree and followed her to the restaurant where they both worked. He had to have a job if he intended to do more than survive on the sufferance of the orphanage, and she just liked to have spending money. He had worked his way up from dogsbody to cook through persistence and stubbornness, wanting very much to learn how to cook so that later on he could properly fend for himself and not have to rely on food stands, takeaway, or delivery.

As he ghosted up beside her she glanced over and smiled widely. “Hisui-kun!”

He nodded a greeting.

“One of these days I’m going to convince you to come help me prepare bentos for school.”

He sighed. “Your mother keeps acting like we’re a couple. I hate it.”

Nana giggled. “You’re so silly.”

He opened the door for her and ushered her inside, then split away so he could ready himself for his shift. He escorted her home hours later, mostly to make sure no one tried to prey on her. Namimori did not have much crime, but there were always thugs popping up and a yakuza “family” around, so he preferred to keep an eye on his friend.

On his way back to the orphanage, hands stuffed in his pockets as he walked, a man emerged from the shadows and hailed him. ‘What the hell?’ he thought, eyeing the fellow suspiciously.

“You have … a singular talent.”

His brow went up.

“We could use someone talented like you. That trick with the needles was good.”

Hisui shifted his weight. ‘This guy—how did he see any of that? No one’s ever noticed before. Am I getting sloppy?’

“You’re a bit young yet, but that’s all right. You obviously have a handle on your talents. I’m Daisuke. I work for a … talented family, talented as you are.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” he finally replied. “I’m a cook.”

Daisuke laughed softly. “Yeah, I know that. I’ve been keeping an eye on you.”

“You some kind of pedophile?” he asked with a sneer. “Gonna offer me candy?”

The man looked briefly shocked. “Never heard that one before,” he said, shaking his head. “Look. I’ll get straight to the point. With your abilities you could be an excellent hitman. Like I said, I’ve been watching. I know the types you target. I’m offering you a chance to join our family.”

“And take orders from some stranger? No thanks.”

Daisuke furrowed his brow. “How about a compromise? I’ll give you my card, you think about it, and contact me if you want to try taking on some jobs.”

Hisui snorted softly. “I can’t imagine there are many people who need to die in a town like this.”

“No, but we’re not far from several big cities. I’m sure you make enough to cover the initial travel expenses on a first job. The pay for it would more than cover that outlay. And if you’re good, even if you don’t join the family officially, you can make a lot of money and get away from the orphanage, get your own place.”

He considered that. It was a step up from what he did already, a big step, but damn if he had not considered killing more than a few in town for just how troublesome they were overall. “What are you, yakuza?”

Daisuke shook his head. “Got nothing to do with them. Let’s just say our roots are in Italy.”

‘Mafia? In Japan?’ Could he actually make that step? Kill a person? Multiple people? It was favored odds he might have to at some point, just based on his past. Wouldn’t it be better to get all the shit out of the way beforehand, just in case? “Fine. Give me a week to think about it.”

Daisuke slid a card from his breast pocket and offered it. He took it and glanced at it briefly, then shoved it into his jacket. Daisuke walked away, and Hisui waited until he could no longer be seen before continuing on his way.

He spent a lot of time thinking about the offer, especially the part where the man had said “officially”. If he could be a kind of freelancer, and have the option to turn down jobs not to his liking—well, that would require actually meeting with him to see what he was offered. If a target did not deserve to die, he simply could not see bothering with any of it. How many people must the mafia have out there to have noticed someone like him in a place like Namimori?

A week later he met with the man at one of the parks.

“Okay, here’s a potential first job for you,” Daisuke said, taking a file from his briefcase and laying it on the picnic table.

Hisui pulled it over to him and opened it. The top sheet of paper showed a bio of the target. Amusingly enough the guy was a pedophile. He glanced up to see that Daisuke was innocently smiling at him. He scowled and looked back down. The job was in Kobe. It would take approximately two hours to get there by train which, if he could manage to complete the job on a day off, would be fine.

The folder gave information regarding the target’s schedule and frequent haunts, and—“This doesn’t give any direction as to how,” he pointed out, looking back up.

Daisuke nodded. “The client doesn’t care. And for something like this, it’d give us a good idea of how you handle things. How clean or how messy, how well you plan, things like that. It would give us a better idea of what you’d be suited for so we’d know what else we could offer in the way of jobs in the future.”

“Right.” He glanced through the material again, then asked, “Where’s the proof?”

Daisuke smiled again, a smile that bespoke satisfaction, and pulled another folder from his case to slide over. “There’s plenty of proof, but the target has excellent lawyers and a lot of people willing to back him up and place him away from any crimes. Local law enforcement has their hands tied. The client finally turned to us for a solution.”

‘Maybe the client had a child targeted by this sick fuck,’ he thought, perusing the new folder. Eventually he said, “Fine. What’s the pay? And do I need my own proof or will news reports suffice?”

“This time? ¥500,000.”

He frowned. “That doesn’t sound like much for someone’s life.”

“It’s not, but this is a test job. A real job, but still a test for you. If you do well and you want to keep going, I can promise you the payouts would become a lot more attractive. We can even arrange for you to get an account with a family-run bank and an innocent enough job title to account for the money you’ll be earning. No sense in having the government come sniffing around, especially if you end up renting a property and become a responsible adult even at your age. As for proof, it’ll be all over the news if you succeed.”

“Fine.” He flipped through the material again, even though he had no need. His memory was perfect, always had been. Nothing escaped him unless he chose to forget it, with one particular exception. “I’ll take care of it,” he said and pushed the folders back.

“I’ll be in touch, then,” Daisuke said, returning the folders to his briefcase.

The next morning Hisui disappeared as he usually did from the orphanage and took the earliest possible train to Kobe to scope out the park the target often frequented. He did not know for certain if the man used the place to troll for potential victims, but there was some speculative evidence that he did. He perched in a likely tree and waited, carefully adjusting his position every so often to prevent cramping, and eyed the target intently even as he pretended to be reading a book. Daisuke had only mentioned his senbon, but he had more than one way to potentially kill a man. The question was whether or not to reveal that.

There was a ropeway the target occasionally rode that offered possibilities. When the target started walking that way he jumped down and found a better position, then made certain the man got on a cabin alone by messing with gravitational forces in order to keep other visitors away. Once it was closed and in motion he scaled another tree and got ready, materializing a half dozen obsidian senbon.

He sent the first toward the mechanism holding the cabin in place, using his control of gravity to ensure a true and steady flight, following that up with the rest in succession. In thirty seconds they had cracked open the mechanism and the cabin dropped free, crashing down into the waterway. Just to be certain, he ensured that the target, if he was even conscious, could not escape, and would drown if he was not already dead.

A few minutes later he was off deep in the woods of the park vomiting. It took a while for the dry heaves to let up and he sat back with a disgusted sigh. Ten minutes after that he had “cleaned up” the evidence with a micro-singularity and had made his way back to one of the paths.

That afternoon he ran into Nana on his way to work. “Hisui-kun! I was going to ask you to go shopping with me earlier, but I couldn’t find you,” she said, sounding disappointed.

“And let your mother get more ideas in her head?” he replied. “We’re fourteen, Nana-chan. Way too early for any of us to worry about that kind of thing.” His stomach was still feeling unsettled and he was not looking forward to being around so much food. “School, on the other hand, is important.”

“I still don’t know if I’m interested in university,” she almost whispered. “It’s so far off.”

He rolled his eyes slightly. “That’s no reason not to do well. You should always do your best.”

“You’re right,” she said with a nod. “So let’s get to work!”

Daisuke hailed him after work the next evening, after he had escorted Nana to her house. He was half way to the orphanage when the man emerged from the shadows again, much like the first time. Daisuke fell into step with him. “Excellently done,” he complimented. “You even made it look like an accident.”

“Yeah.”

As they left the pool of light cast by one of the street lamps Daisuke handed over an envelope. “This has the account information in it. You’ll need to go in to finalize a few details, but the money is there, along with a bonus for speedy completion. I’ll be in touch, all right?”

He took the envelope and shoved it in his pocket, nodding, and kept going as Daisuke peeled off in another direction.

Over the course of the school year he continued to improve at cooking, dodge Nana’s mother, torment the idiots in town, and take jobs. He also learned about Omertà and the Vindice. Daisuke contacted him on average once a month and his payment kept rising. Technically he was employed by a company which he did contract work for, proofreading work he could do at home, in addition to his job at the restaurant.

He made it a point to vary when he took out targets, so that no obvious pattern developed, even if it meant going to school on no sleep from time to time. The orphanage staff never bothered to check on their charges after lights out, so it was not a problem to slip away if necessary.

Hisui and Nana ended up at the same high school, and even in the same class. He was making more than enough money to afford the fees, and to have a small apartment of his own. Upper secondary school was not compulsory and the orphanage would not have paid for it, though he could have competed for a scholarship.

His parents had thrown him away like trash; he would make it on his own. Not even Nana knew his parents were still alive. She was a nice girl, a bit flighty and naïve, and while he thought he could trust her never to say anything it was best to just not mention it in the first place. Knowledge brought on expectations, questions, and other troublesome issues.

They were sixteen when the blond showed up. Nana was acting more giggly than usual when she came back for an order and he eyed her curiously, watching as she brought the meal to one of the window tables. Sitting there was a blond man, ruggedly handsome, perhaps a few years older than they were, and Nana was all blushes.

He sighed and returned to his duties, mentally writing an essay due at the end of the week and another one due the week after. He would simply type them out after he got home and get back to learning new things, interesting things, like languages and warding. He had to have some focus for all that spare time. Every so often, usually when he was out on a contract but not always, he would stop in at the closest magical enclave to browse through the various shops. Now that he had money he could afford to actually purchase all those books and supplies he wanted rather than steal them or read in situ.

The one thing he refused to do was purchase a wand. He had been using his abilities for years before ever stumbling over one of the magical world’s shopping areas, though he realized that one set of powers was not considered magical, and would be damned if he succumbed to using a crutch. If nothing else, having access to those enclaves meant he could keep up with news around the world and see what was going on back in the United Kingdom.

“Nagao-kun! That order ready?”

He slid the omurice he had just finished cooking onto a plate and turned so he could hand it over, and moved on to the next order.

Nana was giggly on the way home and he just knew she would never make it to university. She was the type to get married fairly early and become a homemaker and mother. There was nothing wrong with that, he knew, but—‘As long as she’s happy, I guess,’ he thought as she slipped inside her house.

Things in the UK continued to be on the order of grim, but the papers kept reporting decisive victories against You-Know-Who’s forces. He rather wondered if it would come down to, in the end, a country of mundanes, what with all those deaths being screamed out as news. About the only good thing he could see was that, unless Big Evil was hiding a whole lot more minions than anyone was aware of, the “good guys” were preventing him from actually taking over. Not exactly a Mexican Standoff, but…

Daisuke fell into step with him as he walked home. “Got a new one if you’re interested.”

He gave a faint nod and kept walking. Once inside his apartment he offered the man a soft drink to be polite and sat down to look through the offered folder.

“What university are you aiming for?”

The target was a flame-user. It had not taken but a handful of jobs before Daisuke had explained a few things to him, so at least he had some kind of a name for his non-magical powers. “I’m looking at Kyoto University,” he replied, trying to figure out how to approach the hit.

“Oh? What degree?”

“Linguistics.” The target was a Sun who liked to use his flames to induce almost uncontrolled cell regeneration in his victims, giving them the equivalent of tumors that choked out their lives. Had the man been taking contracts and using it for those that would have been one thing, but this fellow was choosing innocents and apparently killing for fun.

“Thinking ahead, I see,” Daisuke commented. “That could be highly useful.”

“I need a decent cover and translation work pays well,” he said. “You don’t usually show me jobs with so few details. Obvious? Clean? What?”

“Ah, it’s up to you. But the client seemed to favor something messy. Just a feeling I got from he way he was acting. Are you ever going to warm up to me?” Daisuke asked teasingly.

Hisui scowled. “I don’t get paid to be friendly and charming.”

Daisuke laughed. “Some day!”

He sighed in mild frustration and finished looking through the materials. ‘If the client wants messy, I can do messy.’ “Obvious or quiet?”

Daisuke shrugged. “He didn’t specify. Personally, I’d go with obviously messy if you can swing it. The shit the target does warrants it.”

He nodded. ‘So some people get traumatized, so what?’ “I’ll do it,” he said, pushing the folder back. “Might take me a week, though.”

“All right, then. And you might not get paid to be charming, but it can help on jobs in the future,” Daisuke said, packing up and standing. “Think about it.”

Two days later he located the target and shadowed him around Osaka, waiting for an opportune moment. The man decided to have lunch at an outside café table so Hisui held off until he was about ten minutes into his meal before strolling down the street on a route past the café.

A hundred yards beyond that point, and just before he turned the corner, he “reached” back and decompressed the guy, essentially making him explode, showering the area with blood and bone and flesh. On the way to the station he picked up a set of enameled hair slides as a gift for Nana. If she was going to go all girly on him, more so than usual, the least he could do was help her feel pretty.

“Wow,” Daisuke said a day later. “You’ve been hiding stuff from me!”

Hisui shrugged. “Why are you even here? You normally just make a transfer.”

“There’s been some outside interest in you. We’ve kept you pretty quiet because of your age, but I thought you should know. They don’t know who you are, just your reputation.”

He nodded. “Doesn’t mean shit right now. I have plenty to keep me occupied. But I’ll keep in mind that someone might actually track me down.”

“Good. Oh, and the client included a bonus.”

Nana’s blond kept showing up at the restaurant at irregular intervals and he was semi-resigned to her ending up married to the guy. There was little he could say it about it; it wasn’t like he had bothered to even meet or talk to him. There was just something about the guy’s manner that rubbed him the wrong way, even if Nana’s socks were being charmed off.

Things heated up as they went into their third year. “He’s really sweet,” Nana told him. “So charming. It’s just like being a princess at times!”

‘Kami-sama.’ “Please at least tell me he has a good job or good prospects.”

“Oh yes,” she assured him. “He works construction all over the place. And oil drilling, I think he said.”

He eyed her askance. “Nana-chan, when would you ever even see him? It’s not like he’s here every other week.”

“It is a little unfortunate,” she said, looking sad for a split second, “but I really like him. My mother likes him, too.”

‘Well, that would explain why she hasn’t been bugging me of late,’ he thought. “Does this have bearing on you not getting ready for the exams in January?”

She looked down.

He shook his head. “I can’t tell you how to live your life. I’ll support your decision, even if I don’t agree. I still think you should take the exams, just to see where you stand.”

She looked up with a relieved smile and nodded. “Thank you, Hisui-kun.”

“Come on. We’ll be late if we don’t hurry. Your boy toy might even be there.”

She giggled merrily and raced on ahead.

January rolled around and he aced the national exams, then took a second set in February, that time specifically for Kyoto University. He was accepted as a student for the upcoming school year and started making plans to find a place to live there.

“How is this going to affect my job?”

“It won’t,” Daisuke assured him. “I can come to you there just as easily. As soon as you get situated just let me know where. If you want I can narrow down the prospects for you, make sure you aren’t in a bad area.”

If the man had said that back in the beginning he would have been deeply suspicious, but he knew now that as his “handler” of sorts, Daisuke was simply trying to be helpful. “Yeah. That’d save me a fair amount of time.” For all he knew he would end up in a building owned by the family, but so long as they never pushed him to officially join up, he found it hard to care. He could ward the place and keep out any electronic spies, just as he had for his current apartment.

Not long before they graduated Nana broke the news to him on the way home one evening. “He asked me to marry him.”

“You said yes.”

“I did. Will you come? We’re planning for June.”

“I’ll try, but I have no idea what my schedule will be like. I’ll get you what information I can, all right? If I can’t, well, I’ll be there in spirit.”

She gave him a grateful hug. “I’m so happy!”

He tried to smile for her. “Where are you going to live if he’s off working all over?”

“Oh! Namimori. He thinks it’s quite charming here, so he’s going to buy a house for us. I’m very excited. Just think! My own little house I can decorate and take care of, cook in…”

“Assuming you could cook,” he teased.

Nana gave him an outraged look and smacked his arm daintily. “You’re so mean to me!”

“Tch. I know, I know, your mother’s been teaching you. I’m sure you’re a wonderful cook.”

“You’d know if you ever ate one of the bentos I bring in!” she said. “But you have to be all self-sufficient and make your own. All those poor girls who keep hoping to impress you.” She sighed dramatically.

He groaned and shook his head. “They can keep hoping, not that there are as many as you seem to be implying. Fine. You can make me one for tomorrow, okay?”

Nana clapped and grinned in triumph. “I will! Oh, here’s me. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He nodded and waited until she was safely inside before turning away. ‘Well, at least the wedding gift won’t be an issue. I have more than enough money for that.’

Daisuke found him several apartments to choose from, and he spent a weekend getting that taken care of, and another weekend getting the warding worked out. All he would have to do was pack up his current apartment into one of those fancy trunks and he would be good to go.

Living in Kyoto was a serious change, as Namimori was a bit spread out in places, but still more of a smaller town. The students there, while generally very serious about their studies, did not know of his humble beginnings and therefore did not prejudge. In consequence he had a lot of girls giggling at him, and more than few young men.

His contracts moved around more, as well. Places such as Nara and Nagoya had been added to the list of possible cities, though Daisuke never gave him any for Kyoto itself. A schedule for the academic year was sent off to Nana and he received back a letter letting him know which weekend they were planning for. Barring any incidents he would be able to attend.

“This one is another flame-user,” Daisuke said as he handed over a folder and sat back with his soft drink.

He nodded and read through it. The target was a Lightning and leaned toward “hardening” the hearts of her victims, usually men who had upset her in some way, such as by spurning her advances. ‘Great.’ She was scheduled to be at some fancy hotel in Nara that coming weekend, so if he took the job he had a specific window of opportunity.

The paperwork on her noted that she haunted hotel bars, drinking a little too much while looking to score, so caution would be required. True, he could plaster himself to the ceiling and work from there, but that would be a mite ridiculous. “Yeah. I’ll do it.”

Daisuke looked oddly relieved.

Hisui arched a questioning brow.

“It’s just that you’ve never been offered a contract on a woman before. We weren’t sure if you’d accept it.”

He rolled his eyes. “Assholes are assholes. Gender means precisely nothing, except when considering a vector for approach on the hit.”

“Good. That’s good to know.” Daisuke nodded a few times.

“You could have just asked,” he pointed out. “It’s been how many years? Whatever. I’ll do it.”

Daisuke left a few minutes later and Hisui sat back to contemplate the hit. He was free on Friday—no lectures that day—so he could leave early and scope the place out, get a plan worked up.

Saturday evening found him seated at a table in the hotel bar with a glass of wine and a book. That he wasn’t quite old enough was beside the point. Magic was handy that way. It was also handy in having constructed his disguise for the evening. A potion had lengthened his hair, for one—he was so taken with the results that he was considering growing out his hair for real—and it had been bundled up in the back. A strip of embroidered jade silk around his throat took care of another issue.

In addition to that he was wearing a very pricey woman’s kimono and appropriate makeup. His androgynous looks made it easy to pass for a woman. What came across as somewhat sullen as himself was more sultry in female guise for some reason, even if he was trying to pass himself off as sweet and relatively innocent. His target teetered in on four inch heels and immediately cozied up to the bar to order, so he kept a quiet eye on her while pretending to read. Once the woman was deep enough into inebriation he would act.

He had just turned the page when someone sat at his table, causing him to look up in surprise. Seated there was a young man, perhaps his age, but clearly not Japanese, definitely European. He lowered his eyes modestly and tilted his head, letting his lips part slightly, watching the man in his peripheral vision. He had a mass of spiky black hair mostly covered by a fedora banded with yellow, very peculiar sideburns, and liquid black eyes. A sharp, obviously expensive, obviously tailored suit adorned his lean form.

“May I buy you a drink?”

Hisui glanced over for a second and lowered his eyes again. ‘Great. He’s hitting on me, isn’t he. Well, if he has a little too much he won’t be paying attention too closely.’ “Ano…” he said breathily.

“Sinclair Renato. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“…Seta Midori,” he replied, more or less off the top of his head.

Sinclair got a gleam in his eyes, one that Hisui suspected meant he had just presented a challenge of some kind. He certainly wasn’t going to giggle and fawn like many of the girls he knew—how the hell else were you supposed to act?

“Just one drink,” Sinclair coaxed. “A pretty lady like you shouldn’t be drinking alone.”

His mouth twitched as he took in the absurdity of the situation. “Just one,” he allowed, trying to keep his voice breathy, then set his book down and finished what little remained in his glass.

Sinclair signaled to the bar and a server rushed over. Shortly thereafter there were two new glasses on the table. Sinclair lifted his glass and took a sip, then gave him a charming smile. “Are you here for the convention?”

He shook his head, not having any idea what convention the man was referring to, and let his gaze flit around the room so he could update himself on his target. “I just came to see the deer. You?”

“Visiting a friend. So, you don’t live in Nara, then?”

He shook his head again, taking note that his target was on her third drink and eyeing up the prospects available. Her eyes had stopped on Sinclair, but as he was sitting with someone her gaze kept on going after a moment. “I would wonder if you grew up in this country due to your fluency, but I can tell by your accent that you did not. And not with that name, either.”

Sinclair smiled, almost smirked. “French father, Italian mother. I get around.”

‘I’ll just bet you do,’ he thought. “You speak the language very well. My compliments.”

“Thank you,” Sinclair replied and eyed the untouched glass of wine.

Hisui cast a quick spell under the table, noted the results, then reached out to have a sip. “It’s not that late. I would expect if you were visiting a friend that you would be out to dinner with them.”

“Trying to get rid of me?” Sinclair teased.

“You seem to be harmless,” he replied, taking another sip. His target went for drink number four, so he smiled at the look on Sinclair’s face and caused a half dozen senbon to materialize under the table, then sent them darting off to a new location. “Of course,” he added, sending his weapons straight at the woman’s chest, “that would be relative, I suppose.”

His target let out a choked cry and collapsed to the ground. Hisui jerked his head toward the sound and let his eyes go wide with feigned surprise. “What—?” His hand flew up to hover near his mouth.

Sinclair half rose out of his seat, then relaxed back into it as hotel workers rushed in to see to the woman. Hisui released his “hold” on the senbon, allowing them to dissipate into nothingness.

“I don’t understand,” he said breathily. “What happened?”

“Looks like she may have had a little too much to drink,” Sinclair said, despite the fact that the carpet was being stained with blood.

“Oh. That’s very impolite,” he said.

Sinclair looked back at him with some amount of incredulity, then smiled. “I’m sure they’ll take care of it.”

“Yes. I have heard the staff here are very good. Do you often visit Japan?”

They made inconsequential small talk for the time it took for him to finish the glass of wine and he relaxed enough to find amusement in a man hitting on a woman who was really a man who was really only there as part of a hit. He took pleasure in coming across as being a bit brainless, pretending to an extent that he was a non-giggly Nana.

“Would you like me to escort you to your room?” Sinclair offered after he started making polite leaving noises.

Hisui smiled. “I couldn’t possibly trouble you. But I thank you very much for your kind offer. It is only a short walk for me,” he said, gracefully getting up and making sure he had his book. “I hope you have a pleasant stay in our country.”

Sinclair stood at the same time and nodded. “I had a delightful time.”

Hisui smiled again and bowed, then walked away.

*

Renato watched as the very attractive lady left, feeling a bit chagrined that his charm had not actually managed to secure him a companion for the night, then blinked and shook his head slightly. ‘Women don’t usually walk like that,’ he thought, then followed, wanting to see where she went. He quietly turned the same corner she had and stopped dead; she was nowhere to be seen.

There was a bank of elevators, but none of them were anywhere close to the ground floor, and he had not heard the characteristic sound of one of them arriving. Where had she gone? Was she even a she? That ribbon around her neck might simply have been decoration, or it might have been part of a disguise. ‘Damn it. Was I really taken in by cross-dresser?’ he thought as he leaned against the wall in contemplation. Not that it would matter much if he had, because he would go for anything that looked that good. He was still annoyed that he had struck out. That almost never happened, damn it.

Still, it was more than a little odd, now that he thought about it. He headed off toward his room, his mind wandering back over the events of the evening. Maybe he was creating equations where there were none, but who was the hitman? His insects had brought back word of a hit going down that evening and he’d wanted to watch. He had heard a lot about the so-called Kokuyoseki Hari, who often, but not always, used his or her signature attack on jobs.

But who? His view of the room had been hampered by his position; his fault for seeing a pretty young thing sitting there alone. He waited until it was early morning and slipped into the hotel security office, easily sliding past the worker there, and checked the feeds for the bar. As an afterthought he checked the hallway and lobby feeds, but the lady had walked into a blind spot and somehow never appeared again. Not one person in the bar had been in a position to have done the job. Unless—?

He slipped back out and returned to his room. He had heard once, rumors of something other than Flames of the Sky. Flames of the Earth, with perhaps only one overlapping ability, though he knew so little it was difficult to say. Research was in order. And maybe some investigation into the hotel staff, just in case. The night shift security officer looked dodgy.

*

He sat a bit uncomfortably, wondering what in hell was taking so damn long, then straightened up when a side door opened. Sawada strode into the room and took his place, but Hisui was about as close to goggling as he had ever come at the way the man was dressed. Nana came floating in thirty seconds later, not seeming to notice or even care that her soon-to-be husband was dressed in heavy orange trousers, boots, wife beater, an orange work shirt tied around his waist, and wearing a hard hat.

Nana, on the other hand, looked lovely.

He escaped the reception as soon as it was feasible, after having spoken to Nana and given somewhat strained congratulations. “I wish I could stay longer,” he lied, “but university is pretty intense.”

“I’m just so glad you could make it! Thank you so much. Write me.”

He gave her a careful hug and escaped before the new husband could get close enough to delay his departure. He was on the next train out.

Daisuke stopped by with a six-pack of beer a couple of weeks later, which occasioned a raised brow from Hisui. “Why are you bringing me alcohol?”

His handler shrugged. “Well, I got curious, so I did some checking. Did you know that Sawada Iemitsu is part of the Vongola Famiglia?”

“…What?” His friend had married a mafioso?

Daisuke cracked open a beer and handed it over. “Yeah. Surprised me, too. Not quite sure how I missed that.”

He took a sip and immediately set the thing down in favor of a soft drink from his refrigerator. Daisuke shrugged and pulled it closer.

“Well. Okay. I’ll just hope that her husband keeps his damn mouth shut about what his job really entails. He better fucking take care of her.”

Daisuke tilted his head and extracted a folder from his briefcase. “You are such a big brother.”

He snorted and flipped the folder open. ‘Lovely, a rapist with a rich daddy. And the client is a rich daddy with a traumatized daughter. Tempting to decompress his family jewels, but this is for a hit, not a strong warning. Then again, that would be an inventive way to bleed out.’

“You going anywhere for your break?”

“I could afford to,” he replied. “Hadn’t really thought about it. Why?”

“So you could consider the idea of eventually taking on jobs outside of Japan. Or at least becoming familiar with other cities in Japan a bit farther out than your usual. You’re good, and a wider range in the end is a bonus for everyone.”

He grunted and flipped to the next page. “I suppose. I’m going to be here for at least four years, though, so it’s not as if I have to get right on that. Maybe I’ll go to Tokyo for a visit. Or Hiroshima. Get me a list at some point with possibilities.”

Daisuke nodded. “And this?”

He closed the folder and pushed it back. “Yeah, I’ll do it.”

‘The fuck is he doing here?’ he wondered on spotting Sinclair several days later. He adjusted his sunglasses and stepped forward to order some gyūdon from the street vendor. A minute later he was seated on a bench and tucking in, his head tilted slightly as he “listened” to the tracker he had on the target.

“That any good?” he heard, and lifted his head to see Sinclair looking at him questioningly.

He shrugged. “It’s fine. Not as good as mine, but it’s fine.”

Sinclair nodded and walked off, only to return a couple of minutes later to sit down next to him with a bowl of his own. After a few bites he said, “Not bad. Not great, either. You’re a cook?”

“I was,” he replied, not seeing any harm in admitting that. “How about you? Secretly a reporter for a food magazine and taking mental notes for your next column?”

Sinclair chuckled. “Ah, no. Just a tourist.”

“If you’re here at night you can see the tower lit up at the port. And Chinatown’s pretty interesting.” He tilted his head again, “listening”; his target was getting closer. It was all kinds of strange that he had run into the same man again while on a job, but it was probably coincidence.

“With the number of Chinatowns in the world a person has to wonder if China would be disappointing in comparison,” Sinclair said.

He snorted in amusement as his target finally rounded a corner and came into view. Hisui had another bite of his beef bowl before saying, “Maybe someday I’ll go find out.” He wanted to add some doubt to the death, so when the target paused to peer into one of the shop windows Hisui reached out to alternately compress and decompress the man’s heart. With any luck the medical sorts would mistake it for a heart attack, and if not, it wasn’t as though there was any physical evidence.

He pretended not to notice that a man had just died and finished up his meal, then tossed his trash in a nearby bin. “You might consider the Nunobiki Herb Garden,” he said as he got up. “But, well, any hotel probably has all the usual brochures.” He shrugged again.

Sinclair nodded. “Thanks.”

He refrained from any jobs during his summer vacation, choosing to take Daisuke’s suggestion and visit Tokyo. He played tourist himself for several weeks, getting a feel for the city. He considered visiting Nana in Namimori, but she had not been married for all that long and he felt it would be intrusive, and that was assuming she was even in Namimori at the moment.

Instead he bypassed it and checked out Hiroshima instead, eventually ending up back at his apartment to go over a list Daisuke had mailed him regarding possible locations of interest. He was not, in point of fact, all that interested in leaving Japan for any length of time, though he supposed he would have to at least visit Italy at some point.

If you were mafia you had a base in Italy; that was the rule. Daisuke might be Japanese and live and work in Japan, but the famiglia he belonged to, Biforcuto, had its primary base in Italy. The next job Daisuke had for offer he turned down because he had a cold and was not about to sneeze his way through a hit or have to duck off into a restroom multiple times to blow his nose.

Not long after that Nana sent him a chatty letter and invited him to visit, so he took some time to go to Namimori. She met him at the station and they walked to her new house together. “It’s a darling little place,” she said happily. “But how is university? Are the people there nice?”

“It’s fine. It’s still just school, though with a more narrow and intense focus. It’s not any more exciting than our schools were. Years to go, so don’t start making plans just yet for my graduation.”

“I have a dress already picked out!” she assured him, then grinned, her way of saying she knew he would succeed.

The house was typical enough, inside and out, but there was plenty of room for a family. “It’s nice,” he told her. “Not a whole lot different from your parents’ house, but I can see where you’ve already begun making inroads on putting your stamp on things.”

Nana smiled and pushed him toward a seat in the kitchen. “Now, you’re going to sit there and let me make you lunch! And you’ll smile at me and make happy noises and tell me how good it is.”

He chuckled. “Sure.” As she worked he told her about some of his classes, the quirks that some of the staff had, and how much enjoyment he got out of working with languages. The bowls she placed on the table contained gyūdon, amusingly enough. He made a show of looking wary before giving it a try, then smiled. “Very good, Nana-chan. I’m impressed.”

She beamed at him. “I knew you’d like it!”

“Maybe you should have been the cook at the restaurant, but then I wouldn’t have had a job.”

She giggled prettily. “So what kind of place are you living in now?”

“Just an apartment, but it’s a nice enough area of the city. It’s kind of a mess with all the books I have scattered around, but I’m slowly personalizing the place. I visited Tokyo over the break and found a few things to display so it doesn’t look so bare. I just have to not get too much, because I plan to buy a house at some point and don’t want to have to transport too much in the end.”

“Oh? Where?”

“Probably here. I mean, there are a lot of memories I’m not fond of, but my best friend lives in Namimori. You may have met her.”

She giggled again.

“So even if I’m traveling around I’d still have a place to call home.”

“I would think that translation work is something you could do from home,” she commented.

He shrugged. “Depends? What if someone has an old book they want translated? It might be too fragile or valuable to ship over, and photocopies of the pages might blur some of it. But that’s a ways away. The jobs I do now on the side aren’t quite so fussy, but they pay the bills, and get me valuable experience. You never said where you went for your honeymoon,” he pointed out.

“Oh, didn’t I? I guess I was too excited,” she replied, looking a bit chagrined. “We went to Italy! I even got to meet Iemitsu’s grandfather. What a nice man! And he had such presence.”

‘Grandfather? In Italy? Tch.’ “That’s good. How was Italy? I was considering visiting there myself at some point. I’ve heard the food is wonderful.”

She chattered away about the places she’d seen, even through washing up and the two of them heading out to wander the shopping district. He had to admit, it did sound like a nice country; maybe next year. He returned home at least assured that his friend was happy, and got back to work.

‘Another flame-user,’ he thought, looking through the folder Daisuke provided. ‘I swear, Suns can get a little too smug about their abilities.’ The bio presented a fellow who liked to stimulate a victim’s muscles to the point that they lost motor function and were easy prey for things like passing cars or falling into a river to drown.

In this case it was a petty thug type who had lucked into activating his flames and was childishly exploring what he could do without ever once considering the consequences. The only reason he had been noticed was that he was too often noticeably in the vicinity of his victims and stuck to the same place.

That made him pause a little. He had been found that way, except that he had not been killing people, only giving them a little payback and preventing his targets from preying on others. He was in the vicinity when he made a hit, but considering now he was all over the place and not working only in a single town or city…

“I am slightly leery of this one,” he said.

“Because it’s a minor?”

“Yeah. But I see here that he was approached and refused the offer, and keeps on with his killing spree. Would you have arranged my death if I had refused?”

Daisuke shrugged. “Very possibly, yes. The flame-aware famiglie don’t like having flame-users running around without at least some connection to one of them. But you didn’t refuse, and here we are.”

He grunted and finished reading the material. No sense worrying about that now, but it did make him wonder if there was a retirement plan in the mafia. “Fine. I’ll take care of it.”

He spent the evening in Yasu scoping the area out and making plans, then apparated home and managed to get at least some sleep before classes. The next evening he returned and shadowed the target to his home. Once things quieted down and the household was asleep for the night he floated up to the boy’s bedroom window. He carefully “reached” out to manipulate the lock for it, opened the window, then materialized his usual senbon and sent them flying. The forehead, both eyes, the throat, and two at his heart. As soon as he was sure the kid was dead he released his weapons and floated away swiftly, then disapparated.

His next visit to a magical enclave brought news from Britain, though none of it differed much from previous reports. Both sides were still engaging in clashes and the body count kept piling up. He was honestly surprised that anyone was left alive, and the papers did not say just how many people had fled to live in other countries, nor did they go into any kind of breakdown of how many mundane-borns had been terminated.

A passing glance into one of the shop windows saw him stop; there was the cutest little kneazel kitten in there, staring at him. It opened its mouth, obviously making some kind of sound at him, even if he could not hear it, and pressed a paw up against the glass. He made the split-second decision to go inside and inquire. An hour later he had a license in his hand—who knew one was required for a purebred kneazel?—and all of the related supplies. He hated the idea that his name was registered anywhere, but…

“How do you feel about the name Yori?” he asked the kitten back at the apartment.

It eyed him for a bit, then mewed and started washing a paw.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” he said, and set about getting everything in place. Yori was an intelligent little sucker, though he was a bit stand-offish around Daisuke. Not hostile, though. During one of those visits he said, “Can you bring a gun at some point?”

Daisuke goggled at him. “What for?”

“I want to take it apart and see how it works. I can make a number of things already, but I’m curious to see if I can make a functioning gun.”

Daisuke frowned thoughtfully. “Well… All right, I’ll ask. It would be potentially very useful to be able to produce a temporary gun. If the higher-ups say yes, I’ll bring one along and teach you myself. Same with the magazine and bullets, though I expect you’d handle that a bit differently.”

He nodded. “I have no idea if it’s even possible, but I’d like to try.”

“All right. Got a new one for you, obviously.” Daisuke pushed over a folder.

He sneered in distaste barely a minute into reading. The target was a fairly well known actor who liked to “convince” girls on the set to have sex with him. That was bad enough. The problem was that it had been determined that the target had a certain incurable disease and had inflicted it on at least one of those girls.

Hisui sat back to think about it. It would be hypocritical to refuse on the basis of the target not having actively killed someone. After all, his original job had been to assassinate a pedophile, and he had also taken out a rapist. “And they want this done on the set.”

Daisuke nodded. “They’re supposed to be filming an action scene soon, out on the street, so at least it’d be easier to get into position.”

He drummed his fingers on his thigh for a bit before nodding. “Consider it done.”

His handler pulled another folder out and flipped through the contents, then passed a sheet to him.

It was a map of the area in question, showing him exactly where he would need to focus on, with markings showing the projected filming path. “Is there any data on how many takes on average they do for a scene?”

Daisuke rifled through his folder again and said, “At least five, usually more.”

So he had a bit of leeway. He nodded and returned the map. “Fine. Ask about the gun.”

He practiced a bit, being disillusioned, while hovering, while materializing senbon, and while moving himself and them around. Gods forbid he do something asinine like fall out of the sky while trying to complete a job. When the time came he joined the crowd that was milling around in the hopes of getting a good show, and did a double-take on seeing Sinclair.

‘Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Once is nothing, twice could be coincidence, but three times? Kami-sama, do I need to take out a hit on the guy?’ He shook his head and milled until the film crew was ready and the actors were in place, then wandered off so he could get into place himself. He wanted to watch at least one take before acting, so he had an idea of the flow.

He ended up standing on a narrow ledge two stories up, disillusioned, and intently watching. When the second take started he materialized his usual half dozen senbon and sent them flying. Forehead, eyes, throat, and heart. The moment they were released he created another senbon and sent it at Sinclair, making a perfect hole through the crown of the man’s hat.

Sinclair frowned faintly at the disturbance and removed his hat to examine it, then frowned for real and started scanning the area casually. Hisui did not stick around; he flew off to a safe enough spot and disapparated home. After greeting Yori he picked up the phone and called Daisuke to ask him to come over.

Once the man arrived and was set up with a drink he asked, “Do you know the name Sinclair? Renato?”

Daisuke blinked at him a few times. “Yes, actually. He’s kind of neck and neck with you, potentially, for being one of the best hitmen in the mafia. Why?”

“Apparently he’s stalking me. I’ve run into him three times now, every time while on a job. For all I know he’s been in the vicinity on other jobs and I just didn’t notice him.”

Daisuke frowned thoughtfully. “When did you first meet him?”

“Nara. I was disguised as a woman and he tried hitting on me. I think he was looking for a bed partner.”

His handler laughed. “Oh… You probably make for a very pretty girl, too,” he said, ignoring Hisui’s scowl. “He obviously made some kind of connection, since I expect you made the hit while he was there. Maybe he wanted to eye up the competition, or admire a fellow hitman’s work?”

“Yeah, well, I was annoyed enough this time to send a senbon through his damn hat. Is he in any way connected to—” He paged through his memory. “To whoever it was sniffing around a while back?”

Daisuke shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of. And Sinclair isn’t formally part of a famiglia. He’s like you, but with contacts for more than just one.”

“He wears a lot of yellow. He a Sun?”

“Yes. He doesn’t seem to use his flames for jobs, though. He uses a gun. He also gets around, though from what you’re saying, he’s been roaming around Japan for a while. Maybe he’s on an extended holiday? I can check, see what I can find out.”

“I wish you would. I find it very odd that he keeps popping up. How is he finding out where I’ll be? Is someone in the famiglia selling information on the side? Because I thought you were still keeping me fairly under wraps.”

“We are,” Daisuke assured him. “There have been potential jobs offered to us from other famiglie who don’t operate in Japan, but who have a client who needs a hit done here; but we don’t offer any of those to you. Too much of a chance that one of their agents would be lurking, trying to get a fix on you so they can bypass us and contact you directly. Or potentially to kill you, to remove an asset.” He paused. “Yeah, I’ll be doing some checking. If that’s what he’s up to, well… That and as you said, how he’s learning where you’ll be in the first place.”

Hisui frowned in annoyance. “Don’t offer me any jobs in the interim, while you check. It’s better if I lay low for a bit.”

Daisuke nodded. “I agree. I’ll get back to you, all right? Hopefully it won’t take too long. Call me if you need anything.”

He nodded and sat back as his handler took off. Not having jobs for a while was no big deal, it was more the aggravation of having a stalker and not knowing why. He got up and headed out to do his shopping.

A month later he got a letter from Nana, inviting him for another visit, so he took a train to Namimori that weekend. Iemitsu was off on another job, apparently, so at least he did not have to worry about bumping into the guy. Nana made lunch for them, then said, after sitting down, “We’re going to have a little addition to the family!”

He paused mid-chew and stared. ‘Yeah, right, married couples do that sort of thing.’ After swallowing he said, “I’m happy for you. When?”

She frowned faintly at his lack of enthusiasm. “Probably in October. I’m really looking forward to it!”

What he wanted to do was ask snide questions about the availability of her husband during all this, but had to assume that Nana’s mother would be useful in that capacity. “Well, hopefully this little bundle of joy will look like you. What are you hoping for? Boy? Girl? Kittens?”

She giggled at him. “You’re so silly. I’ll be happy either way. Well, not kittens,” she clarified. “If it’s a boy, though, he’ll be named in the tradition of Iemitsu’s family. For a girl? I’m not sure yet.”

“Tradition?”

Nana nodded. “Oh yes, all the boys are named after Tokugawa Shoguns. I’m not quite sure why, though, but I suppose that doesn’t matter. It’s tradition!”

‘Right.’ “This is very good, by the way,” he said.

“Oh, thank you!” She beamed at him. “What about you? I know you’re busy with university, but have you met anyone nice?”

He shook his head. “Just the usual. I’m there to learn, not get distracted.”

“But you’re such a wonderful person, Hisui-kun! I want you to be happy.”

His brow went up. “It’ll happen when it happens. I’m not worried about it. And I’m happy already. I even bought a cat,” he said to reassure her.

Her eyes went wide. “Really? Aw, that’s so sweet. What did you name it? Is it a boy or a girl?”

He carried them through the remainder of the meal with anecdotes regarding Yori, and afterward they browsed the shopping district, more as general exercise than for any actual need to shop. She still seemed to have no clue what her husband did for a living, so he was pleased. Or, if she did, she was exceptionally good at hiding it. He leaned toward the former, though. Nana could keep a secret, but she was just not particularly secretive, and she had an amazing capacity to ignore or dismiss the obvious at times.

Yori was pleased to see him again and pointedly indicated his dish after a greeting.

“You’re not starving to death just because you can see the bottom of the bowl,” he muttered. “There’s still plenty of food in there. Once a day, damn it. It’s not my fault if you don’t pace yourself.”

Yori made an unhappy sound and stalked off, only to do an about-face and go sniff around at the front door.

He eyed his cat curiously, wondering if there was someone lingering outside. He was not foolish enough to actually use the peephole. It did make him consider planting a camera out there, or in place of the peephole itself. He shooed Yori away from the door, prepared some senbon, and opened it.

Not a damn thing was out there aside from some insects buzzing around. He swiftly scanned around, then retreated and secured the door. “What the hell?” he muttered.