Grazhir :: Crossover :: Hisui :: 02

02: 2001

“Can’t find a lick of evidence that anyone is leaking information,” Daisuke informed him. “No clue how he’s finding you, but from what I’ve chased down … I think he’s curious about you. I don’t think he’s out to cause trouble so much as simply learn more about you.”

Hisui sighed. “Fine. Got anything for me?”

Daisuke brought out a folder and pushed it over. “An odd one, this. A doctor abusing his patients.”

“Sexual?” he asked, preparing to read.

“No. Unnecessary treatments. He an oncologist and he’s been handing out chemotherapy like it was Pocky.”

His brow went up. “Odd way for a god complex to come out,” he commented, then opened the folder. The client was one of the victims; she had gone for a second opinion elsewhere, having become uneasy and suspicious. She wanted something messy, if possible in the man’s office, but it was not a requirement. “Yeah. I’ll do it. Any news about the gun?”

“Yes, actually,” Daisuke said, reaching into his briefcase again. He brought out a handgun and laid it on the table between them. “A CZ 75. Czech Republic. Pretty popular gun choice. If you can’t get a feel with this one I can try bringing in a Beretta 92S another time.” He reached into the briefcase again and retrieved a dozen magazines. “Plastic bullets, which aren’t too difficult to get. If you can successfully make a gun, these will allow you to at least test it. And if you can reliably create one, then we can move on to the idea of you managing magazines of a sort.”

Hisui nodded.

They spent the next several hours going over the gun. Hisui learned how to take it apart and put it back together, how everything inside it worked, how the bullets were moved from the magazine to the chamber, and how they were ejected as projectiles.

Eventually he sat back and nodded. “I’ll work on it. I can keep the magazines for now?”

“Of course. It’s not like you can visit a shooting range without it being a bit troublesome, so you’d have to find someplace quiet out in the woods somewhere, or let me escort you to one of the famiglia’s ranges.”

“I’ll find my own spot,” he said. He could find a place, ward it if necessary, and so forth.

“Okay, but let me know if you change your mind on that point. How’s school going?”

“Fine. Though I’d prefer to speed things up. These people go at mizuame speed.”

Daisuke shrugged. “It is what it is. They may have won placement at such a prestigious university, but that doesn’t mean they all have brains like yours.”

“Yeah, yeah.” After his handler left he stepped out onto the balcony to have a cigarette. It was a shit habit and he had to regularly spell the clinging scent away so that he did not end up smelling like a stale ashtray, but they gave him a sense of calm that even Occlumency failed at. It probably had something to do with the restriction of oxygen to the brain. He almost didn’t notice the chameleon clinging to the railing because of how it blended in so well.

“What are you doing, little one?” he asked it after exhaling a stream of smoke. “The middle of a city seems an odd place for you. Did you escape your owner?”

It blinked lazily at him, then eyed Yori, who had come out to investigate. His kneazle chirred curiously at the little beast, going up on his hind legs so he could sniff at the intruder. Hisui watched them carefully as he smoked, ready to intervene if Yori tried to eat the thing. It took an entire cigarette for Yori to make a satisfied little noise and sit back.

“You two friends now?” he inquired. “Or are you just satisfied that this little fellow isn’t a threat?”

Yori sneezed and wandered back inside.

“Right.” He lit up a second cigarette and leaned on the railing, staring out over the city. He would have to investigate the target’s office, of course. See if it was possible to get in there undetected, without leaving any evidence. On the other hand, if there was a nice big window? It depended on whether or not it was impact resistant, laminated…

“Suppose I could just—tch.” The client wanted messy; why was he even worrying about getting senbon through a damn window? He rolled his eyes and took a last drag, then stubbed the cigarette out in the ashtray. “Later, little one.”

‘A time turner would be handy,’ he thought, eyeing the target through a pair of binoculars from the balcony of the building across the way. ‘It sucks to have to miss my lunch to do this. I wonder how hard it would be to steal one? Or construct one?’

Once the target’s aide left the office he reached out and explosively decompressed the guy. The aide ran back in, her hands went up to cover what he presumed was a scream, and then she fainted. Hisui tucked the binoculars away and went inside the building, entered a handy storage closet, and disapparated.

That evening he looked up in surprise when someone knocked at his door, three lazy ones. Yori perked up in a way that told him it was not Daisuke. He cautiously readied senbon and went to the door, then opened it. “The hell are you doing here?”

Sinclair smiled charmingly. “Going to invite me in? After all, you owe me a hat.”

He flicked his gaze up for a split second, taking in the chameleon on the guy’s hat. ‘What. The. Fuck?’ “Fine. You can come in.” He stepped back to allow passage, noting that Sinclair noted the senbon hovering there, and closed the door once the man was inside. “Never expected to gain my very own stalker,” he drawled.

Sinclair turned and smiled again. “You’re intriguing.”

“Kami-sama,” he muttered. “And no, I don’t owe you a hat. It’s your own damn fault.”

“I just wanted to see some live-action filming,” Sinclair said innocently.

Hisui snorted. “Why are you stalking me?” he asked irritably.

“Because you didn’t walk like a woman. Your disguise was fantastic and certainly had me fooled, until you walked away. And then I started wondering.”

He snorted again. “You mean you were annoyed you didn’t get laid that night.”

Sinclair grinned. “That, too.”

“Yeah, well, I’m obviously not a woman.”

Sinclair shrugged. “So? What’s that got to do with anything?”

He sighed.

“Got anything to drink?”

“Shit.” He rolled his eyes. “I don’t keep alcohol on hand. So okay, fine, I walked wrong. Why are you—?”

“I told you. You’re intriguing. You’re as good as I am. Coffee would be great. Or a soft drink.”

‘He’s like a fucking leech,’ he thought in disbelief, running a hand through his hair. He turned abruptly and walked into his little kitchen to retrieve soda from the refrigerator. Sinclair followed him in and took a seat at the table, so Hisui joined him and pushed one over. “Well, congratulations. You’re one of the very few who knows who the hell I am.”

“I’m just that good,” Sinclair said smugly as he cracked the tab on the can, continuing to ignore the senbon that followed him around.

Yori pranced in and leaped up onto the table. He sat down and eyed Sinclair.

‘Kneazles are supposed to be excellent judges of character,’ he reminded himself. ‘So either this guy is all right, or my cat is defective.’ “Yori?”

Yori looked at him, mewed in a friendly sort of way, and turned to eye the chameleon.

“Right.” He released the senbon and cracked open his soda. “I have the weird feeling you can communicate with that little guy.”

Sinclair smiled and removed his hat, placing it on the table. The chameleon scrambled off and wandered over to Yori.

“I almost put out a hit on you.”

Sinclair’s eyes went wide. “A little harsh, don’t you think?”

“How was I supposed to know what the hell you were planning? After the third time I saw you I started asking questions.”

Sinclair chuckled and took a long sip from his can. “It was chance I sat with you the second time, but at least after that I had some idea what to be on the look out for. It’s the eyes, you know. They’re very distinctive. People are calling you the Obsidian Needle, or Phantom.”

He shook his head in disgust. “That’s pathetic. The first sounds like a damn superhero from one of those American comics. The second one is at least tolerable, even if I think it’s stupid.”

“So. University student, linguistics, been a hitman for…?”

“Oh, now, that’ll cost you,” he replied.

“Well, let’s see. What can I get for an amazing evening where I make you scream my name in ecstasy, repeatedly?”

Hisui stared. “Senbon to the family jewels. I am no one’s momentary amusement.”

Sinclair adopted a look of mock dismay. “Yes, I can speak to my chameleon.”

“Any idiot can speak to it,” he replied.

“We can communicate,” Sinclair clarified. “He told me all about your smoking habit and how he made friends with your very odd-looking cat.”

Yori growled at the comment.

“Since I was fourteen.”

Sinclair whistled. “Not bad. Gonna make a wild guess and say you’re self taught.”

He shrugged.

“After all, you’re not an official part of any famiglia from what I can tell. That means it’s extremely likely you developed on your own, and were scouted because of it, after someone witnessed you in action.”

“You’re not an official part of any famiglia from what I can tell,” he replied. “You’re a Sun, but you don’t use your flames for hits, not directly, anyway. Why are you even in Japan?”

“Originally? For a holiday. But then I saw this amazingly pretty lady in a hotel bar.”

He snorted and looked at Yori. “You might want to head into the other room. I’m going to light up.”

Yori sneezed and leaped down to the floor as Hisui reached out to float a pack, lighter, and ashtray to the kitchen table. He lit a cigarette and took a drag, offering the pack to Sinclair as an afterthought. Sinclair took one and lit up with practiced ease. The chameleon scurried over to rest on the fedora again.

After a few soothing drags he said, “So, does this mean you’ll stop stalking me now?”

Sinclair exhaled a stream of smoke, then smiled. “We’re friends now, so it doesn’t count as stalking.”

“The hell?”

“You’re too pretty to let get away.”

Hisui materialized a senbon and brought it to a hover in front of Sinclair’s left eye. “Maybe I should help you out with a little eye surgery, because I’m not pretty.”

Sinclair just smiled. “Exquisitely handsome, then,” he replied, then had another drag.

“Tch.” He released the senbon. “You don’t scare easy, that’s for sure.”

“Oh, I was in a right panic the first few times I did a hit,” Sinclair said with a chuckle. “Scared to death I’d be caught and spend the rest of my tender youth in prison. I got over it. I know you’re an Earth, which is pretty damn rare, but I don’t think that’s all you are.”

He sighed.

“I got my hands on a few autopsy reports.”

“Well aren’t you a sneaky little devil,” he drawled.

“I’m very good with my hands, yes,” Sinclair replied, smirking. “And I’ve watched you manipulate gravitational forces like they were the strings of a master puppeteer. I think you’re also—what was it called? Volcano. Something like that. One paper said Seamount. It’s not easy getting information about Flames of the Earth. But it would explain the senbon that melt away to nothing. Can you do fire attacks, as well? Magma?”

He took a long drag off his cigarette. “Don’t have a clue. Never tried it. Why not use your flames for hits?”

“I am very fond of my gun,” Sinclair replied, with a little upward flirt of his eyebrows.

“…Is everything an innuendo to you?”

“That you recognized it as one says something about you,” Sinclair said smugly.

“Yeah, that I was forced to listen to way too many guys at school giggling in the locker rooms about ‘naughty’ things.” He was annoyed to realize that he was relaxing again. Sinclair was way too damn charming for his peace of mind. “Why a chameleon?”

“Ah, it’s my turn.” Sinclair stubbed out his cigarette and sat back. “Why not a gun instead of flames?”

“Because I only just recently got to strip one down to see how they work.”

Sinclair furrowed his brow in mild confusion. “I like chameleons for their ability to blend in, and I always name them Leon as a joke. They never seem to mind. You seeing anyone?”

He exhaled heavily. “No. I’ve never been all that interested in relationships.”

Sinclair’s brow went up slowly. “Hm. Another wild guess here, but based on your general manner, that default sullen expression, I’ll say that you got a lot of grief growing up and ended up being something of a loner, and more or less adverse to giving anyone the chance to hurt you.”

“What are you, a psychologist?”

Sinclair smirked. “Ha, I tricked you into a question. No, I earned a master’s degree in mathematics, actually. Why strip a gun down to see how it works if all you need to do is point and shoot? Accounting for wind, drop ratio, and other such factors.”

He took a last drag and stubbed out his cigarette, then lit another. He was further annoyed to realize he was too close to actually smiling. “I can make more than just senbon. What exactly do you expect to get out of this … meeting?”

Sinclair smiled broadly. “Getting to know my new friend better! What other reason could there be?”

How could he respond to that without opening himself for—or he could just treat it as rhetorical. But that would mean giving up an existing question. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe some bizarre satisfaction in needling me.”

Sinclair laughed.

“Why aren’t you part of a famiglia?”

“I could ask the same,” Sinclair replied. “But I think I already know why. As for me, well, I like my freedom, and I’ve yet to meet a Sky strong enough or interesting enough for me to even consider harmonizing with and becoming a guardian for.”

Now that was something he had no real knowledge of. He had never bothered to ask beyond the basic capabilities of users of Flames of the Sky.

“You really are mostly self taught,” Sinclair commented, his face serious. “Would you like to know more? I don’t mind explaining any of it.”

“Fine.”

Sinclair smiled again, but more naturally, with no inherent provocation. “Okay, it’s like this. There are seven Flames of the Sky. Sky is the center. Arrayed around that are the other six. Cloud, Lightning, Mist, Rain, Storm, and Sun. A Sky will usually, but not always, have six guardians, one of each flame. The base characteristic of Sky Flames is harmony. It represents a state of balance. The guardians plus the Sky are a part of that balance.

“Skies are the rarest. Well, I expect given just how little information there is regarding Flames of the Earth, you’re pretty damn rare, too, probably even more rare, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Skies can do more than just harmonize, of course, but for the purposes of my earlier answer…

“I’ve never met one I felt drawn to, so I remain a free agent, like you are. On top of that, Skies are rare enough that the idea of every flame-user out there being able to find one to harmonize with is patently ridiculous. I know of one famiglia based on Flames of the Earth, but they’re reclusive and very little is known about them.”

That, while not being all inclusive, was a good answer. “How the hell have you been able to keep tracking me down?” He had a hard time believing that the man had an army of chameleons canvassing the country.

Sinclair started to object, then seemed to realize he had asked the last question, even if he had also answered it. “The answer to that would require a whole lot of trust between us.”

He pursed his lips trying to think of a different question. Yori pranced by the archway, which jogged his memory. Yori had indicated interest in the front door that one time; nothing had been there but some insects. He finished his cigarette and gave Sinclair a speculative look. “I think I already know the answer to that, actually, so I’ll think of a different question.”

“Hm, I wonder…” Sinclair said noncommittally.

“How can you afford to keep stalking me?”

Sinclair smiled. “I have plenty of money. I can afford a lot of things.”

He sighed. More fool he for asking such an ambiguous question.

“Will you go out on a date with me?”

His brow shot up in disbelief. The guy did not quit.

“You said you took apart a gun to see how it worked, and that you can make more than senbon. The logical conclusion is that you plan to try to make a gun the same way you do your senbon. So, we go have a picnic in some out of the way place—I know plenty, even here in Japan—and you can try, and I can tell you if any guns you come up with even handle right, never mind fire.”

That … made sense. “Will you keep your hands to yourself?”

Sinclair smirked. “Mostly.”

“Kami-sama,” he muttered, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Fine.”

Sinclair smiled with what seemed genuine enthusiasm. “Favoloso! If you’re free this weekend, say, Saturday…”

“Fine.”

“I’ll even let you choose what kind of food I bring,” Sinclair offered.

“I don’t think so. I’ll do the cooking.”

“You make it sound like you don’t trust me,” Sinclair complained, his eyes gleaming with amusement.

“I can’t believe I agreed to this,” he muttered.

“I’m just that good,” Sinclair said smugly, making him half tempted to smack that smile off the man’s face.

“Whatever. Ten o’clock.”

Sinclair nodded. “Well, I should probably go. I did drop by unexpectedly, after all.” He got up. “I very much look forward to Saturday.”

He gave the man a flat look, but got up to escort him out, ridiculously grateful Sinclair did not try to sneak a good-bye kiss or something equally outrageous.

He was distracted for the remainder of the week, which annoyed him, but he shopped on Friday afternoon with a picnic in mind, which meant bentos.

‘This better be worth it,’ he snarled mentally, staring at the bento boxes. He had included rice, tamagoyaki, yakitori, mixed steamed vegetables, and seedless grapes in each. There were two small thermoses of miso soup that could sipped from directly. The damn boxes even had their own holders for hashi. He strapped everything together, including some juice bottles, and shoved the magazines Daisuke had given him into a pocket, and sat down for a cigarette. He had almost finished it when he heard three lazy knocks at the front door, so he stubbed it out and went to answer it, setting their lunch on the entry table.

Sinclair was there, smiling that charming smile. “Ciao.”

He frowned. “Hold on a minute,” he said, and turned away so he could put on his shoes. Once he was done he checked to make sure he had his keys, grabbed the bentos, and exited, closing and locking the door behind him.

Sinclair had an actual car, which rather stunned him, but he tried to take it in stride. The journey was fairly quiet, possibly because Sinclair might not have been all that accustomed to driving in the Kyoto area, but they arrived without incident at an isolated little parking area.

“It’s not a long walk,” Sinclair said once they had exited the car, “and there’s a natural enough little area there where we can eat.” He took a few steps, paused for Hisui to begin following, and started walking again. About fifteen minutes later the trees thinned out to reveal a clearing. There were a few targets along one side and near the entrance was a set of flat rocks around a tree stump.

Hisui set the bentos on the stump and chose one of the rocks to sit on. “I’ve never done this before, so…”

“Gone on a picnic?” Sinclair teased, also taking a seat.

He cast a flat look Sinclair’s way, then began to concentrate, trying to mentally shape in minute detail the gun he had worked with, then materialized it.

Sinclair sat up straight in interest. “May I see it?”

He handed it over. “It may be fused.”

Sinclair tried pulling back the slide; the motion was horribly jerky. “I’m not sure this could fire, but I could try putting a magazine in. I notice there’s no safety, but something like this wouldn’t need one, right?”

He shook his head and pulled one of the magazines out and set it down.

“The balance is also off, but we’ll see.” After inserting the magazine Sinclair chambered a round and winced, but aimed the gun anyway and tried to fire, keeping it well away from his body. The result was far from optimal.

Hisui took the gun back and released it, grabbing the magazine as it fell. “Do you have yours on you so I can get a more recent feel for the balance, as you put it?”

Sinclair nodded and reached across his body and under his jacket. “The safety is on,” he said as he produced his personal weapon, which turned out to be a CZ 75, then ejected the magazine, verified that there was no round chambered, and inserted Hisui’s magazine. He offered it flat-handed.

Hisui tried to hold the thing as Sinclair had. “Is it all right if I fire it once?”

Sinclair stood up and gestured for him to do the same, then pulled him over and gave him a quick lesson in firing, and on what not to do. “Keep your finger straight along the side. Never bring your index finger in unless you intend to pull the trigger. You hold it wrong and twitch in surprise, and God only knows what you’ll put a bullet through. Squeeze the trigger, don’t jerk it. And be prepared for the kick.”

He nodded. There was a kick all right. He certainly understood why Sinclair had said to keep his arm at least slightly relaxed. The recoil on a rigid pose would have been painful and awkward.

“Try another,” Sinclair encouraged. “This is a semi-automatic, so it chambers a new round for you.”

He fired a half dozen more times, getting better accustomed to how it felt, and at aiming, then flipped the safety and handed it back to Sinclair, who ejected the magazine and the chambered bullet, which was pressed back into the magazine.

“Okay. Ready to try again?”

He concentrated, built up the model in his mind, and materialized a new gun. Sinclair holstered his own gun and took the new one. “This one looks better, but let’s see.” The magazine went in, a round was chambered, and Sinclair fired. “Definitely an improvement.” He carefully handed it over, saying, “Try firing it to feel the difference.”

As he took it he noted that his companion—date!—was being very serious about the whole thing, which was a relief. ‘But then, I suppose, you don’t get to be that good of a hitman with an actual gun by fooling around.’

An hour later he was much closer to a properly working materialized gun. He decided a break was in order and released the gun, catching the magazine and placing it on the stump. “Time for lunch, I think,” he said, and sat down. The strapping was undone and he handed one of the boxes to Sinclair, along with a thermos and bottle of juice. He flipped open the panel on the top of his box to get the hashi out before removing the lid proper.

Sinclair watched for a second, then did the same. “This is adorable.”

He sighed and started eating.

“And you do this kind of thing every day for school?”

“Yes,” he said a bit stiffly. “It’s much less expensive than buying out, and you get exactly what you want.”

“Well… I appreciate the trouble you’ve gone to. Thank you.” Sinclair aimed a smile his way and began eating, having no trouble using hashi.

“The thermos has miso soup,” he said, setting his hashi and box down long enough to open his juice and take a sip.

Sinclair hummed. “Nice. That’s definitely something I’ve developed a fondness for.”

“Why did you learn Japanese?”

“I like languages, and the job takes me to plenty of places. It’s an advantage. Makes me more flexible. How many languages do you know?”

“Ano… Over a dozen. I’ll probably learn more, since the university focuses on some odd stuff.”

“I’m impressed. You must have a real aptitude for it.”

“I needed a way to relieve my boredom.”

Sinclair’s eyes gleamed mischievously, but he refrained from retorting with some manner of lewdness. “Do you plan to travel once you’re done with university? Plenty of opportunity out there, especially when you’re as good as we are.”

He shrugged. “I’ll have to check out Italy, I suppose. My friend told me about some of the places she visited on her honeymoon.”

Sinclair gasped in mock surprise. “You have an actual friend aside from me? Wow. Well, Italy is very pretty. Some good wines, too. And, of course, the food is superb. Much too easy to gain weight over there if you’re not careful.”

“I’ve never tried any,” he admitted.

Sinclair frowned. “Well, if you allow me to take you out again, I’ll find a good Italian restaurant for us to go to.”

He furrowed his brow. “How long are you even in Japan for?”

“As long as I want to be,” Sinclair replied cheerfully. “I have a trusted contact here who can funnel jobs to me. If I stay long enough I’ll consider buying a place to live. I probably should anyway. Never hurts to have houses in various countries, or even various cities.”

He couldn’t decide if that upset him or not. Or rather, if he was feeling a sneaking sense of pleasure at the idea of having a friend he could actually talk to about his real job. Daisuke was hardly a stranger, but neither was he a friend, not really.

“There’s that look again,” Sinclair said a bit teasingly. “The one that proves you do actually feel something aside from irritation.”

He frowned. “I was thinking of buying a house, but I’m not sure I see the point just yet. Certainly not in Kyoto. It’s too big.”

“Where, then?”

He thought back a second and quoted, “The answer to that would require a whole lot of trust between us.”

Sinclair laughed. “I could find it,” he said smugly. “Besides, kind of hard to build trust unless we spend additional time together. Admit it now, you’re enjoying yourself.”

He scowled. The man was way too good at reading people. “I enjoy languages. I rarely enjoy people.”

Sinclair laughed so hard he had to set his bento down. “I’ll show you how to enjoy a person, if only you’d let me.”

“Shit. I walked right into that,” he muttered.

“You most certainly did. You ever going to tell me which name I can call you by?”

“I get the feeling you’ll accept nothing less than my given name,” he said sourly. “I don’t know how people do things in Italy, anyway, or France. Whatever.”

“You can call me Renato. I do know how you Japanese are.”

“Fine, Ren-san,” he drawled.

“Ooo, lotus or love. I wonder how I should interpret that.”

“Kami-sama,” he whispered and concentrated on his meal again.

Sinclair took pity on him. “Well, there’s a whole world out there of food, and I’ve tried plenty. You can generally find something to enjoy in any country, though I have to admit I’ve never gone to some place like, ah, Yemen. Mostly Europe and Japan. Customs can be a bit strange, depending on where you go. Are you even allowed to speed up your education? Seems a waste to spend so much time at it when it’s obvious you have a natural flair for languages.”

“I plan to check,” he replied. “I’m bored as it is. I thought university might be more challenging, but it’s not. I feel like I’m wasting time. But you can’t skip ahead earlier than that, so I doubt I could for university.”

“How do you feel about branching out later on?”

He shrugged. “Don’t know.”

Sinclair let out a tiny sigh. “Do you know anyone else in the business? Aside from your contact, I mean.”

He started to shake his head, then paused. “I know of someone, but I’ve avoided actually speaking with him. Something about him sets me on edge. Seems way too, I don’t know, hearty. Why did you become a hitman?”

“There was a certain romance to the whole thing,” Sinclair replied, “and I like being so good at something, the planning, the challenge. I could have moved into some ivory tower and spewed equations and theorems until my ears bled, but … as much as like mathematics, that wasn’t terribly attractive as a life. What about you?”

“Ano…” He almost smiled remembering what Sinclair had said a few days previous. “Got a lot of grief growing up. Once I realized what I could do I used that to assess some non-fatal payback. Got noticed, got a recruitment pitch. Didn’t seem like such a big step to make in the end. It more than pays the bills and gets assholes off the street that the police can’t touch.”

Sinclair nodded. “Just doing our part for world peace,” he joked.

“Yeah,” he said, snorting. “World peace through violence.”

Sinclair drained the last of his soup and sighed happily. “Really nice meal. Thank you. You ready to try some more, or…?”

They spent another hour working, and then packed up. Sinclair was a lot more chatty on the drive back, and walked with him up to his apartment. “I would love to do this again,” he said, leaning against the wall. “What do you say? Go out with me again? I’ve behaved myself, haven’t I? Mostly?”

Did he want to? If he were being honest with himself he’d had a good time. “…Fine.”

“Fantastico! I’ll find a good Italian restaurant, then. You own a suit?”

He nodded.

“Perfect. Let’s say, hm. Saturday. Six o’clock? Seven?”

“Seven.”

Sinclair leaned in close, smiling. “Ciao.” Then he pulled away and walked off.

Hisui entered his apartment and locked up, removed his shoes, and stepped up into the hallway. Yori came to greet him with a questioning lilt to his tufted tail.

“That … wasn’t too bad,” he admitted. And he knew of a place he could apparate to for practice, already set up, though he would have to do some checking to ensure it was not a well-frequented location.

“Mrrow?”

“I already know you like him. I’m still trying to decide if I do.”

Yori flicked his tail and pranced off, so Hisui brought everything into the kitchen so he could clean up, then went to check his closet. He passed through the week alternating between interest, boredom, and agitation. He just knew Sinclair was going to keep coming at him, needling him, forcing him to step outside his comfort zone. ‘To what end?’ he thought. ‘Another conquest?’

He was ready well ahead of time and pacing around the apartment, smoking, on Saturday evening. When three lazy knocks sounded he vanished the cigarette and cast the spells to deal with the residue, then went to open the door.

He was greeted with yet another charming smile, and a small foil-wrapped box. “Eh?”

“Just a little gift,” Sinclair assured him as he stepped inside.

He took it and set it on the entry table, then got his shoes on. Sinclair did not have a car that time; they took a cab. The restaurant was rather different from what he was accustomed to, the décor, and they were shown to an intimate little table with half-height walls around it for privacy. The menu was in Italian and Japanese, which was useful but unnecessary.

“They do a kind of sampler here,” Sinclair pointed out, “so if you’re uncertain you can order that and get a wider idea of things.”

Their server wandered back by with a pitcher of ice cold water and glasses as Hisui perused the menu. When asked about appetizers he cast a somewhat uncertain look at Sinclair, who nodded and said, “The antipasto salad for both of us, please.”

He eventually settled on chicken parmigiana and set his menu aside, right about the time the server returned with the salads. Sinclair ordered ossobuco and a bottle of Sangiovese for them to share.

“Don’t be shy,” Sinclair teased. “If you end up not liking any of it we can always stop by one of the street vendors and get something. Not a big deal.”

He picked up his fork to try the salad, then hummed thoughtfully and nodded. “I think I like it.”

Sinclair decided to speak of various places he had visited in Japan, making for easy conversation, so he was fairly at ease when the main course arrived, though he furrowed his brow when Sinclair sliced off a small piece of his veal and offered it to him to taste. It was a new fork, so that wasn’t the problem; it was something of an intimate gesture to his mind. Despite that he accepted it and gave fair attention to how it tasted, trying not to notice that Sinclair used the same fork for himself.

“Mm. That’s interesting,” he opined, then started in on his own. He tended not to eat tomatoes unless they were raw, so his meal was a pleasant surprise, and the freshly grated Parmesan added a certain something. The vegetables were lovely, too, cooked just right, and the wine had a fruitiness to it that went well with everything.

“You seem to be enjoying it,” Sinclair commented.

He nodded. “I like it. I would definitely eat this again. And probably come back here to try other things.”

Sinclair smiled. “I’m glad to hear that. I’d cook if I could, but I’ve never been any good at it. A shame, because I do so enjoy food, though it always seems to taste better when someone else does the cooking.”

“I—maybe.” There was something to be said for cooking for yourself, because then you could tweak the flavors. “That hasn’t been my experience until now, but when it comes to this, never having tasted Italian before, or tried to cook it, I wouldn’t know.”

“I’ll have to introduce you to some others,” Sinclair said. “French, maybe Thai.”

“You’re assuming a lot,” he complained.

Sinclair grinned. “No. I’ll ask, like a gentleman. And you’ll scowl at me in that adorable way of yours, and realize I’ll keep asking, and finally say yes just to shut me up.”

He started to scowl and caught himself. “The university won’t let me test ahead or double up.”

“That’s a shame. Still, it leaves you plenty of time for other things.”

“Like going out with you?” he asked before he could stop himself.

“What a wonderful idea! I’m so glad you suggested it. Maybe next week we can try some more tests. You were doing really well and I get the feeling you’ll figure it out fairly quickly. Then you could move on to the second part of it, though I have my doubts there, given how the ammunition is actually, ah…”

“I know. But even having the first part would be useful.”

“You up for dessert?”

He took stock and realized he could manage a bit more, so he nodded. “Any suggestions?”

Sinclair leered a little. “You like chocolate? I’d say the chocolate amaretti cake.”

“You just can’t get through the day without flirting, can you.”

Sinclair shook his head. “Impossible. Unthinkable.” To the server who showed up he responded, “Chocolate amaretti cake and tiramisu, please.”

“Well, then I won’t take your flirting personally.”

“Oh, now, I wouldn’t go that far. It’s very personal. I am rather single-minded in my pursuits, and you just happen to be in my sights.”

He sighed. “Right. Until something else catches your eye and you flit off.”

“You don’t know that, though,” Sinclair pointed out. “You should give me more credit. True, I’ve had my amusements, but that doesn’t mean I’m not looking for something enduring.”

“With me?” he asked in disbelief.

Sinclair got a vaguely frustrated look on his face that vanished when the server returned with two plates and set them down. He grabbed his dessert fork and nipped off a section of his tiramisu, and offered it up. Hisui accepted it with a slight sigh, then tilted his head. It was kind of nice, actually. He nodded and tried his cake, humming in pleasure at the taste.

“So how long ago did this friend of yours get married?”

He blinked. “Last June. Why?” he asked suspiciously.

“I’m going to make a wild guess and say you acted a bit like her older brother, probably made sure no one preyed on her, because even small towns have undesirable elements to them. You’re probably annoyed that she didn’t go to university, but have mostly accepted that she’s doing what makes her happy.”

“Are you sure you’re not a psychologist?”

“Ah, so I’m right. I’ll also guess that she was one of the few, or only, people who never gave you grief growing up, and that you don’t care for her hus—hang on. That man you mentioned, the one with connections…”

“How do you do that?” he almost whined.

Sinclair smiled lazily. “I would trot out my usual, or even the one where I tell people I can read minds, but it’s just a combination of observation, a good memory, and intelligence. It’s like an equation in my head for me to solve. I like solving equations. They often lead to new ones to solve, like some beautiful fractal flower.”

His brow furrowed at the analogy. He did fine in maths, sure, but…

Sinclair finished up his tiramisu and set his fork down. “That was delicious. Unless you want to round things off with coffee…”

Hisui shook his head as he ate the last of his cake and set his fork down. After Sinclair took care of the bill they grabbed a cab back to his apartment, and Sinclair leaned on the wall again outside. “You up for another round at the clearing? Same time as before? Saturday?”

He stared for long moments before he nodded.

Sinclair pushed away from the wall and leaned in again, eyes gleaming. “I look forward to it. Ciao.”

Hisui watched him walk away, then went inside, seeing the little foil-wrapped box. After he removed his shoes he picked it up and brought it to the kitchen so he could investigate. Inside were four little lavender-tinted, flower-shaped somethings. They smelled awfully good. Yori jumped up onto the table and sniffed, then mewed an okay, so Hisui tentatively nibbled on one. “Mm, interesting. Tastes like sweet almonds.”

He finished the one he had and put the cover back on; he could eat the rest later. To get his mind off the very disturbing way Sinclair was edging into his life he turned his thoughts to the issue of bullets. Yes, he could materialize bullets, but without primer on the ends they would be useless. He did not think he could transfigure that sort of thing.

Still, if he ever wanted to use a gun for a hit, to potentially disguise who was behind the job, perhaps he could simply make sure any real bullets he had were entirely, utterly clean of any prints, skin oils, whatever, and use his power to pack them into a magazine. He could keep those in an extended pouch or pocket.

And then there was the question asked of whether or not he could create other attacks, such as fire or magma. Not even Daisuke had given him names of all the Flames of Earth, but Sinclair having information almost made it easier to imagine certain things, certain possibilities.

*

He made oyakodon for their lunch. He had a clever little stacked container that held the rice in the bottom, the chicken mixture in the next compartment up, and then the bowls fit on top upside down and were held in place with latches. That he had “enhanced” it with runes to maintain temperature was not something he would bother mentioning.

Another little container held manjū and cinnamon yatsuhashi. He also brought some of the lemon-lime soft drink he preferred. Sinclair had not objected to it at his apartment that one time, so it should be fine. It was better chilled, but also fine at room temperature.

Sinclair showed up right on time and again had a car available. Hisui was curious, but not quite curious enough to ask if it was rented or borrowed. He set everything down on the stump again and got to work. Sinclair was eventually satisfied enough to load a magazine of real bullets in to the obsidian gun and shoot. “I think you’ve pretty much managed it, Hisui.”

He twitched at the sheer familiarity, but nodded.

“Now the question is whether you can do it at a moment’s notice, slap in a magazine, and shoot.”

He nodded again, but took the gun back after Sinclair removed the real parts and released it. “Time for lunch, then.” He sat down and carefully unpacked everything, portioned the food into bowls and handed one over with some hashi, and placed a drink next to his companion.

Sinclair hummed appreciatively and, after a moment, said, “Now I’m curious to see how your gyūdon is.”

‘That sounded either like a request for another time, or a subtle hint toward dinner at my apartment,’ he thought.

“Did you become a cook to learn, or because you already knew how?”

“To learn. I wanted to be able to fend for myself, not have cupboards full of cup noodles, nor rely on delivery or takeout.”

Sinclair nodded. “Well, as I told you, I had a French father and an Italian mother. She apparently successfully argued for the right to name me and was an excellent cook. Unfortunately, she ate herself into an early death, and my father’s wandering eyes and hands made life difficult. Still never could quite get the hang of cooking, though, even with that motivation. I admire that you’ve managed so well.”

He blinked. ‘So … some of his attitude comes from something other than privilege? Huh.’ “I grew up in an orphanage,” he said, and immediately brought more food to his mouth.

Sinclair eyed him for a moment, then nodded. “Even more admirable. Given any more thought to other uses of your flames?”

He sighed faintly in relief that Sinclair had not pushed and nodded. “The senbon came from sharp irritation, annoyance, even disgust. I don’t need to feel that way anymore—haven’t for a long time. If I can imagine it I can usually make it. Complex things are obviously harder. But fire?”

“Anger?” Sinclair suggested. “Rage? Fury?”

“I don’t normally feel anything that strongly.”

Sinclair eyed him again, his brow faintly furrowed. His gaze wandered off to the side as he took a drink. “On behalf of yourself?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Originally, creating the senbon. Was it personal irritation, or on someone else’s behalf?”

“Oh. Myself.”

Sinclair was quiet again for a while, then said, “Hypothetical situation. Someone breaks into your apartment and tries to harm or kill Yori. Or your friend’s husband’s job brings her into the line of fire.”

He frowned and stared at the ground. Yori could probably take care of himself, but Nana? He would like to think Sawada was smart enough to keep his presumably oblivious wife away from all of that, but he supposed it was possible that someone with a grudge might follow the man to their home in Namimori.

“Think it over, stuff like that,” Sinclair said after a minute. “Not pleasant, but it’s a thought. And, who knows? Something else might be a suitable trigger.”

Dessert was well received, which was nice, and he found out that Sinclair like cinnamon. After lunch he worked on materialization speed, trying to get a perfect gun as quickly as possible. Once Sinclair pointed out that he could probably make more than one in succession, even if they were far more complicated than senbon, they developed a little scheme. He would make a gun and, while he was making the next one, Sinclair would test the first.

By the time he was sick of it for the day he had made decent progress. He packed up and they returned to his apartment. Feeling generous he invited Sinclair in, though he scowled at the look sent his way. Yori came to greet them and give a friendly meow, but was obviously looking for the chameleon.

“Sorry, Yori,” Sinclair apologized. “I’ll bring him next time, okay?”

Yori flipped his tail and pranced away, so Hisui headed into the kitchen to wash up. Sinclair just leaned against the arch frame and watched. “Does—no, will your contact supply you with real bullets? Or just the plastic ones?”

Hisui set a bowl into the drying rack and looked over his shoulder briefly. “I have no idea. He seemed surprised and a bit uneasy at first when I asked if I could examine a gun, but he was all for the idea of me trying to create one once that sank in. The original thought behind all of this was to create a temporary weapon I could use to fire senbon so I wouldn’t have to control them in any way, but I didn’t think it through at the time. I know now that I’d need something entirely different in design and I’m better off using them as I do, and work with a gun as an entirely separate option.”

“Wow,” Sinclair said quietly. “I think that might be the most I’ve ever heard you say.”

He bit his lip in annoyance and finished washing up.

“Oh, don’t be like that. I’m feeling a little warm and fuzzy because of it. It makes me think you actually enjoy my company.”

He pushed aside how that made him feel and turned around. “What do you know about the Vongola Famiglia?”

Sinclair blinked at him. “Ah, they’re the biggest famiglia, and the most powerful, flame-based. They have a lot of allies, more than a few enemies. They originally began as a vigilante group to protect themselves and the local populace. Things went a bit downhill during the second generation, but it seems to be leaning back toward its origins these last few. They don’t deal in the baser things. You know, prostitution, drugs, that kind of thing. Fairly upright. Why? Your friend’s husband?”

He nodded. “I didn’t find out until after the wedding.” The doorbell went and he frowned, then walked past Sinclair to go answer it.

Daisuke was standing there, carrying the usual briefcase, but he looked behind Hisui and went still. “Is this a bad time?”

“Tch.” He waved Daisuke in and stalked off to the living room to sit down. Sinclair decided to lounge right next to him on the sofa, slinging an arm along the back.

Daisuke took a chair and just stared. “Well. This is a surprise.”

“Yeah, whatever. What have you got?”

His handler looked away from Sinclair and opened his briefcase, pulled out a folder, then offered it. “Another flame-user.”

He flipped it open and started reading, then sneered. “That’s disgusting,” he murmured. The target was a Cloud who liked to use his flames to replicate his victim’s brain cells—always males, usually ones with very attractive ladies on their arms—until they died. And if they did not die from that, it was from brainstem compression. The target was another one who operated in a fairly narrow area and the autopsy reports piling up had sparked an investigation from a victim’s mafia-connected girlfriend. The client favored messy.

He closed it and handed it back. “I’ll do it.”

Sinclair hummed. “You going to cross-dress again? Because if so, I want to see it.”

He sighed and reached over to elbow him. “Stop reading over my shoulder. And only if you’re the poor sap who gets his brain turned to mush.”

“Ah, no. That would make my job a bit difficult. And I wouldn’t be nearly so charming.”

Hisui reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose, then turned to Daisuke. “The gun is coming along well. I’m getting faster. At some point I’ll want a supply of real ammunition.”

Daisuke’s eyes widened. “Excellent news. Yeah, I’ll run that by them. Shouldn’t be a problem.” He shrugged. “There might be times when a gun might actually be a better option, though with how well you complete contracts I confess I’m not seeing how at the moment.”

“So, the Biforcuto Famiglia,” Sinclair commented. “Good reputation you guys have.”

“Thank you?” Daisuke replied. “You picked up another name, by the way.”

Hisui sighed. “What now?”

“Baric.”

“…At least that one has some relevance.”

Daisuke grinned faintly and nodded. “Right. I’m off.”

He let the man see himself out, then looked sidelong when he felt Sinclair’s arm drop down onto his shoulder. “What are you doing?”

“I’m Italian,” Sinclair said cheerfully. “We’re a touchy-feely people. So tell me, how did you get so damn lucky as to end up with green eyes?”

He shook his head. “Not willing to talk about that.”

“That’s all right,” Sinclair said easily. “We on for next Saturday? We can do some more work on that gun, then maybe go out for dinner. Found a lovely little French place.”

‘Is it really so horrible that I’m getting used to him?’ he wondered. ‘Even if all he really wants in the end is to get laid, he’s obviously willing to work for it, and wait for it. Kami-sama.’ “Fine.”

Sinclair squeezed his arm gently. “I’ll pick you up at the usual time, and then afterward at seven again?”

He nodded.

Sinclair leaned in sideways, his mouth right next to Hisui’s ear. “Ciao.” Then he reclaimed his arm, stood, and saw himself out.

He was left sitting on the couch feeling a bit befuddled. The man’s breath on his ear—he got up and locked the door, then checked Yori’s water dish.

He spent an evening wandering through the target’s operational area while disillusioned, just to set the place in his mind, then returned the next day during lunch to make the hit. As poetic justice he exploded the target’s head, just like from one of those silly sci-fi movies. He was back in his apartment and headed to school a minute later.

“You could make your own bullets,” Sinclair pointed out during their next session, “but I expect that’d get boring pretty quickly.”

“Considered it. Not interested,” he replied. “True, I don’t exactly plan to use a gun often, so making my own might make sense, but I’m just not interested.”

Sinclair shrugged. “Your aim is getting a lot better.”

He almost smiled. That was a compliment of high order coming from someone who used a gun as his livelihood. “Thank you. I think that’s enough for today.”

“Sure.” On the ride back Sinclair asked, “How do you manage to keep the food at just the right temperature?”

“…I’m just that good,” he deadpanned, and got a laugh for it. Sinclair dropped him off and promised to return at seven, so he went inside and got cleaned up, then got his suit ready. He idly wondered what Sinclair would look like in a pair of jeans and promptly face-palmed over his traitorous thoughts. “Shit.”

He smoked rather too much until it was time to get ready, then smoked another one after he was dressed. When the three expected knocks came he stubbed out his cigarette and cast the usual spells, patted his pocket to make sure he had his keys, and went to open the door. Sinclair handed him another foil-wrapped box, which he set aside.

Shortly thereafter they were seated at a French restaurant. He took in the décor with mild interest and read through the menu. When the server had ensured they were set for ice water and inquired about hors d’ oeuvres, Hisui glanced at Sinclair, who tilted his head and said, “The Reblochon tarts, please.” The server hastened off. “Have you decided?”

“I think,” he said slowly, not feeling especially brave, “the chicken cordon bleu.”

Sinclair nodded. “Never a bad choice, and with the right sauce it’s delectable.” He then went on to talk about places he knew of in France until the server returned and set a small plate of tarts down. “We’ll be having the chicken cordon bleu,” he said, gesturing slightly toward Hisui, “and the pork tenderloin Diane. As for wine…”

Once the server had departed again Hisui cautiously bit into a tart and decided he liked it. Sinclair smiled at that and continued telling him about France in between bites. When the meal arrived he did his usual, slicing off a small bit of his tenderloin and offering it.

After Hisui finished swallowing he said, “Maybe just slightly too much lemon for my tastes, but otherwise I like it.” Then he started on his own, which he also quite liked.

“How do you feel about amusement parks?”

He blinked and looked up. “Eh?”

“Amusement parks,” Sinclair repeated. “I was considering inviting you to one. I suppose it depends on whether or not you like roller-coasters. I read something recently about the park Disney is putting together in Tokyo, but that won’t be open for months. There are others, though. And aquariums.”

He blinked a few more times and started laughing softly. ‘This guy is unreal!’

A look of shock stole over Sinclair’s face at his reaction, but it was quickly erased.

After he got it out of his system and sobered up again he said, “That would be an interesting choice. I suppose I wouldn’t mind going to an aquarium. Roller-coasters irritate me because I don’t have any control over the motion.”

“…Right. So that’s a yes?”

“Sure.”

Sinclair clutched at his chest. “You said something other than ‘fine’. Are you feeling well?”

Hisui pressed his index finger to his lips to prevent a smile, got himself under control, and started eating again. For dessert he chose an apple tart while Sinclair went for crème brûlée and, as usual, Sinclair shared a bite, making sure to include a bit of one of the banana slices laid on top. He was pleased with both of them and said so.

“What do you plan to do for your break?”

“No idea. I didn’t do much last time, and it’s still almost three months away.”

Sinclair simply nodded, but he had a calculating gleam in his eyes. “I’m sure something will come up.” He handed a credit card to the server when he walked by and they were shortly in a cab and then back at the apartment.

Hisui sighed faintly at the look he was getting. “Oh, all right. You can come in,” he said and unlocked the door. “Yori will be upset with you, though.”

“Right, because Leon isn’t with me. Next time. I don’t usually bring Leon along because he’s a bit sensitive to gun shots, and I didn’t think you’d appreciate me leaving him here while we were out.”

At first he could not think why, but then remembered that the two could communicate. While Yori would probably prevent any spying, he could see why Sinclair might think that. “It’s fine. Yori would make sure he didn’t get into any trouble. I’d be concerned only because I have no idea what a chameleon might require on hand.” His shoes went off and the package got reclaimed and brought to the kitchen to be placed on the counter for the time being.

“Don’t suppose you have any coffee in this place?”

He snorted and shook his head. “The closest I’ve come to coffee was that tiramisu.”

“A soft drink will be fine, then.”

He turned around to stare before saying, “You’re so pushy. If you want one, get it yourself.”

“All right,” Sinclair said agreeably. “Would you also like one?”

“Sure.” He reached out for his cigarettes, lighter, and ashtray and set them on the table as Sinclair got out the drinks, then took a seat and lit up.

Sinclair took a seat and pushed over a drink, then gestured at the pack. At Hisui’s nod he took a cigarette as well and lit it.

“How is it that you can communicate with Leon?”

“It’s just one of those things. Kinda like magic.”

Hisui blinked. “Magic?”

“Ever heard the term squib?”

His eyes went wide with surprise and he took a long drag in a futile effort to hide his reaction.

“Okay, you have. And judging by your reaction you’re not thinking of any of the mundane definitions. My mother was a squib. Maybe my ability is related, maybe not. I have one hard and fast rule as a hitman these days; I don’t take jobs in Britain. Too much weirdness going on over there. I don’t even go near France these days. And now you’re going to tell me the reason you can do things like keep the container temperatures perfect and be like a ghost on hits is because you’re magical, right?”

“Well, no.”

“True, you weren’t going to tell me, but I’m nonetheless right,” Sinclair said confidently.

“I think you might actually be smarter than me,” he finally said.

“I’m just that good,” Sinclair said smugly. “And part of the reason why you’ve been so prickly is because of the Statue of Secrecy.”

Instead of glaring or scowling he half-smiled fleetingly. “Yes, I’m magical. I’ve always known that.”

“You have a purebred kneazel for a pet. Another huge clue.”

After exhaling another drag he said, “Then maybe you can answer something for me.”

“Yes?”

“I never got an invite to Mahōtokoro. I always wondered if it was because I was flame-active.”

Sinclair sat back. “I don’t know, but it’s possible. You’re the first person I’ve met with both. It’s possible the flames disguise your magic to whatever system they use to find students. I’ll make a wild guess and say you don’t use a wand.”

“I was consciously flame-active early on and didn’t stumble over any magical enclaves for some time. I’ve learned without that crutch. If nothing else, becoming a hitman meant I could afford all those books I wanted, and other supplies.”

“You started out stealing them.”

He did not bother to get annoyed at that point. “Yes.”

“I don’t think it’s the magic that explains your eyes.”

He shook his head. “Still not willing to talk about that.”

“Not yet,” Sinclair said confidently, then finished off his cigarette and drained the last of his drink. “I had a good time tonight.”

“So did I,” he replied with a small smile. “Saturday again?”

Sinclair nodded. “I’ll have to see if I can find a Thai restaurant in town.”

“All right.” He finished off his cigarette and got up, and headed for the door when Sinclair also stood. As he was reaching for the handle to open it he felt Sinclair at his shoulder.

“Ciao,” was breathed in his ear again before the man slipped out, leaving him a bit befuddled again.