Grazhir :: Crossover :: Hisui :: 03

03: 2001

“Just imagine,” Sinclair said cheerfully. “If you ever took up golf as a hobby, you would never need a caddy. You could just make all your own clubs on the fly.”

He sent his companion a look of disbelief. “I cannot imagine doing so. Walking great distances just so I can smack a small ball around? And have to resist the temptation to just fly the things there using my power?”

“Ooo, just think,” Sinclair said, his expression going a bit distant and dreamy, “there I am, in your apartment, and you hold me captive with gravity. Why, I’d not be able to resist your wicked advances!”

He face-palmed. “Maybe I should find out where you live so I can hold the door closed with you still inside.”

“One, you would have to know where, as you said. Two, that would make it difficult for me to spend time with you. Three, I doubt you could keep that up in your sleep. Four, I would just break out and come annoy you anyway. So, do you know how to—I forget what it’s called. Teleport?”

“Teleport is close enough, and yes.”

“Can you carry a passenger?” Sinclair asked, that gleam back in his eyes.

“I don’t know. Never tried it before. Never needed to. Doing that with a passenger increases the risks of splinching.” At the questioning look he received he added, “Anything from opening cuts or gashes on the body, partial separation of limbs, to leaving body parts behind.”

Sinclair winced. “Distance a factor?”

“Yes.”

“Want to try it here, say, across the clearing?”

He worried his lower lip between his teeth. “I suppose knowing the answer to that would be useful. But—I would want some supplies if I did, just in case. Healing items.”

Sinclair nodded. “I’m willing to try if you are.”

“Ano… Hold on. I’ll be right back.” When Sinclair nodded he disapparated to his apartment and rummaged around in the chest he stored potions supplies in, then apparated back.

“You never need to worry about losing your keys, do you?”

He rolled his eyes and set his supplies on the stump, then stood next to Sinclair and gestured at his arm. As soon as it was offered he took it, and apparated them promptly, to over near the targets, then released him. “That didn’t seem too difficult,” he commented, eyeing Sinclair as he tried to recover from the sensation. “Just as well we haven’t eaten yet, or you might have thrown up.”

“A little warning might have been nice,” Sinclair chided a bit hoarsely. “That was unpleasant.”

“Imagine feeling that as a child when you’ve just teleported on instinct,” he said wryly. “Aside from your stomach trying to leap out of your throat or wanting to violently expel your lungs, are you all right?”

“Yes, though I have a new appreciation for how my bullets must feel, if they could feel. Give me a second.”

He nodded. “Apparently it still falls under the necessary visualization. I didn’t feel any strain whatsoever. I suppose after a little practice to be sure, I could probably apparate a passenger anywhere within my range.”

“And that range is?”

“No idea. Eight hundred kilometers isn’t outside reason, maybe a thousand.”

“Definitely see why someone tagged you as Phantom. The magic thing is pretty handy,” Sinclair said, easing back to normal. “Okay. Try again?”

They spent the next hour at that, with short breaks between to allow Sinclair to recover, though his recovery time was steadily improving. “Portkeys are worse in my opinion. It’s like someone attached a hook to your navel and yanked you through space-time. And if you should lose hold of it while in transit, serious injury or death is possible.”

“I’ll pass. How about we eat, and afterward back to speed?”

“Sure.” He had made miso-braised pork, the usual rice, and steamed vegetables.

“I may keep you just for the cooking, never mind what else I’m interested in,” Sinclair commented after a few bites.

“I’m glad you like the food,” he said a bit sourly.

“I like you more,” Sinclair said teasingly.

“You’re just interested in the challenge.”

Sinclair frowned at him. “Time will prove my intentions. Speaking of time, I have a couple of jobs I need to attend to, so I’ll be away for a bit.”

“Oh.”

“But I’ll bring you back a gift, for having deprived you of my company. Maybe a souvenir.”

He sighed faintly. Hopefully Sinclair’s idea of a souvenir was appropriate.

“Never fear. I’ll hold you close to my heart while I’m away.”

‘I like this guy again, why?’ “I’m flattered.” He might even have meant that.

When they got back to the apartment Yori and Leon seemed to be deep in conversation, however it was that animals communicated with each other, so Sinclair left him there for the time being. Or, as he said, “I’ll bring him home after dinner.”

Hisui had to wonder just how many restaurants Sinclair had sampled throughout Kyoto to keep finding places. They started off with ordering spring rolls and while waiting on those Sinclair said, “How do you feel about spiciness?”

He shrugged. “Not something I’m particularly used to?”

“I’d say go with something like phat thai. It’s an easy entry to this kind of food. Or, they do a dish with chicken in a garlic sauce with mixed vegetables that’s quite nice.”

He glanced at the menu again and nodded. “Probably the second one. What about you?”

“Ah, I think I’ll go with the pineapple chicken curry.”

And that probably meant he would be able to gauge what Sinclair meant by spicy without ending up with a meal he could not bear to finish. “None of the beverages sound all that appealing,” he remarked.

Sinclair nodded, then again at the server who appeared with the appetizer. He ordered the main course, some iced coffee for himself, and then placed one of the spring rolls on his plate and spooned some of the sauce on, as well.

He did likewise and had a taste. The sauce was sweet, the wrapper was crisp, and the overall flavor was pleasing. He nodded, and noticed that Sinclair smiled. “How long will you be gone?”

“A week, week and a half. Probably not longer than that. Some people are very fussy about who does certain jobs.”

That gave him pause. “I’d never really thought about it, but I guess that makes sense.” Flame-users could do some amazing things, depending on the type and how they utilized their abilities. Sinclair might not use his obviously, but it was entirely possible he used them to boost his own ability with a gun.

“Since I’ve never actually been to Thailand, I’ll tell you about Greece instead,” Sinclair said, then started rambling about locations there. When the main course arrived he paused long enough to offer some of his curry, before rambling on again.

Hisui’s first thought was, ‘Spicy.’ It was good, but the spiciness of it was a bit much for him and it was overpowering the other flavors. His meal, however, was wonderful, and he tucked in happily as he listened to Sinclair’s travelogue.

He invited Sinclair in again once back at the apartment without so much as a twinge. After all, the man had to collect his chameleon. They had a cigarette out on the balcony, looking out over the city.

“I have your phone number, so I’ll call you when I get back.”

Objecting to the invasion of privacy would be fruitless, so he simply nodded. “That’s assuming I’m home.”

“I have my ways.”

“You mean your insects,” he replied.

Sinclair slowly turned his head toward Hisui. “You were not supposed to figure that out.”

“I’m just that good,” he teased.

Sinclair edged closer and dropped an arm around his shoulders. “One of these days I’ll find out. Ever considered getting a mobile phone?”

“Why? So you can send me text messages at all hours?”

“Now there’s an idea. No, I just think they’re handy. And someday they’ll manage to make them into little computers and they’ll be even more amusing.”

“Maybe.”

“I like the one I bought here. Some of the features are nice. Unfortunately, most of that doesn’t work outside Japan. Well, thank you for a lovely evening. I have a plane to catch in the morning, so…” The arm was reclaimed as Sinclair finished off his cigarette. “Suppose I have to find Leon, now.”

Leon was reclaimed from his cozy spot next to Yori and placed on Sinclair’s hat. Hisui walked with him to the door, saying, “Thank you for dinner.”

Sinclair leaned in for his usual good-bye and slipped out, leaving Hisui to wonder if he was slowly going insane. He was starting to look forward to that. On that thought he went to investigate the little gift and found it contained petit fours.

During the time that Sinclair was gone he attended classes as usual and tried not to be bored, amused himself by materializing all manner of objects, and looked into Italian cooking. He was being infected with an appreciation for non-Japanese cuisine. He also taught himself how to pick locks with materialized tools.

He was not long back from classes when the phone rang; it was Sinclair, angling for an invite. Hisui was somewhat dismayed to realize he was excited to see him again. He had been even more bored than usual without a visit to look forward to. He face-palmed and lit up, using the cigarette to settle himself, and was able to answer the door with relative composure.

Sinclair arrived with a bag of takeout from a Chinese place around the corner and hustled it into the kitchen, along with a cylindrical metal tin. Hisui was left to close and lock the door in his wake and follow. Sinclair already had the bag unpacked and was opening cartons to figure out which was which.

“Ciao! I brought food, obviously. And I have some news.”

He moved to get some drinks and hashi and investigate the offering, then sat down and pulled a carton of moo goo gai pan close, along with one of rice. “News?” he prompted.

Sinclair removed his hat and set it aside, at which point Leon scampered off to find Yori, then secured a carton of orange chicken and said, “Seems there was a big altercation amongst the Vongola. No real details on why. However, it seems their independent assassination squad, called the Varia, staged a coup d’état. The Vongola Nono’s son Xanxus was behind it. He’s on ice now.”

His brow went up.

“Not sure if he’s dead or not. The report I got was a bit vague. Suppose I could send in some spies, but I prefer not to irritate such a large and powerful famiglia. The Vongola mansion took some heavy damage, though. It’ll cost a pretty penny to repair, but they’re rolling in it. I’m just a little stunned. You don’t normally see that sort of thing in a famiglia like that. They’re usually pretty stable.”

“Some aren’t?”

Sinclair shook his head. “Some have a lot of internal strife. That’s why it’s good you’re associated with Biforcuto. Not a lot of drama there.”

“Good to know. I’d hate the idea of suddenly having a new contact because mine got his head blown off.”

“If it ever came to that it’d be easy to get you set up. You’re kind of a hot property, especially since almost no one has any idea who you are.”

It was a novel feeling to be considered valuable. “Do you ever do jobs for the Vongola?”

Sinclair did a weird shrug. “They don’t often farm out jobs. Don’t have much need to.”

“You won’t be affected, then,” he said with a nod. “I assume your jobs went well.”

After a short pause for Sinclair to finish eating his current mouthful he said, “Simple and clean. I was feeling feisty so I shot them through the head instead of the heart this time.”

He was half way through his food when he remembered that Sawada was Vongola. He would have to send a letter to Nana subtly probing for information. If she responded with nothing out of the ordinary it should mean that Sawada was fine, or well enough. “So the Vongola have an independent assassination group?”

“For the most difficult of jobs, yes,” Sinclair replied. “You have to be ridiculously good to be invited to join them, and even then, if you fail a job, you’re liable to either end up dead or seriously injured. A friend of mine was invited, but he declined. Too busy working on his medical degree, and he likes being a free agent. You also have to know at least seven languages, otherwise they won’t even bother paying attention. And then, it’s the top seven flames, with sub-groups under each flame, kind of like a pyramid of sorts.”

He grimaced. “Doesn’t sound at all appealing.”

“They tend to be the absolute best, but they also tend to have serious problems with sanity and interpersonal skills. In that sense my friend would fit right in. He likes to boast he’s infected with over six hundred diseases that all cancel each other out, and he’s utterly convinced he’s God’s gift to women, regardless of how often he strikes out. He can barely focus on one woman long enough to get anywhere before he’s distracted by the next one.” Sinclair rolled his eyes.

“Right. Remind me never to be in drag around him, then,” he said dryly.

Sinclair snickered. “Yeah, I’ll do that.”

“Speaking of being in costume, do you ever wear something other than a suit?”

“Only in bed,” Sinclair said with a smirk. “And then nothing at all.”

He sighed. “You look very sharp in a suit. I just wondered if you owned anything that wasn’t Armani.”

“Gucci, actually.”

“Whatever,” he said irritably.

Sinclair grinned. “Yes, I own more casual clothes. I rarely wear them. It’s hard to justify a fedora while wearing Levi’s.”

“I still don’t understand how your hair does that when you wear a hat so much of the time,” he said, eyeing the way it spiked and still looked entirely natural.

“It’s like the rays of the sun, unfettered and … I don’t know where I was going with that one.”

He laughed softly and immediately bit his lip.

Sinclair grinned again and finished off his carton. “When you’re done, open the tin. It’s my ‘sorry for depriving you of my company’ apology gift.”

He glanced into his carton and grabbed the last of it, then got up to dispose of the empties and put the hashi in the sink. After sitting back down he pushed the lid off the tin and was hit with the scent of chocolate. “Hm?”

“Double chocolate biscotti. As a bonus, they keep well.”

He pulled one out and offered the tin to Sinclair, who also took one, and set the tin aside. He was in love after one bite. Because of that he pressed the lid back into place and sent it over to the counter in an attempt at avoiding temptation. “I definitely like these,” he admitted, then had another bite.

“Good. I chose well, then.”

It was fairly early and, well—‘Fine,’ he thought. “Would you like to watch a movie?”

Sinclair’s eyes widened slightly. “Yes. What do you have?”

“Just pick whatever. I don’t have anything I wouldn’t watch again.”

Sinclair wandered off into the living room so Hisui finished cleaning up, then grabbed fresh drinks and went out to join his—friend? Friend. After he sat down he brought the usual supplies over and lit up. Sinclair was fairly quiet during the movie, though he did snake an arm around Hisui’s shoulders again, and it was not until the credits rolled that he realized Sinclair was asleep.

‘Jet lag? At least he doesn’t snore.’ He carefully extricated himself and arranged Sinclair on the sofa, then went to go fetch a blanket to cover him with. The man’s clothing would suffer for it, but he was not about to undress him. After turning off the player and television he had a cigarette on the balcony and retired to his room, but not before switching on the bathroom light and leaving that door open.

He woke up at six and stumbled out, only to find Sinclair sitting in the kitchen sipping a soft drink and having a smoke. ‘Right. He fell asleep. That thing people keep raving about.’ After a slow blink he veered off to make tea.

“I apologize for the inconvenience. That was not intended.”

He fluttered a hand around incoherently and reached for a mug. Two spoons of sugar went in, a little milk, and a tea bag. The hell with the British and their argument on the proprieties of tea making; it was bagged tea! His kettle shut off so he poured, set the kettle back, and ferried his tea to the table and sat down. As he reached for a cigarette he checked the time, then lit up.

“You’re not exactly a morning ray of sunshine, are you,” Sinclair commented.

He exhaled and blinked slowly. “What?”

“I’ll just give you a few minutes, then,” Sinclair said with amusement and sat back.

A few minutes later he was removing the tea bag and giving things a stir, and then drinking the lifeblood of the Empire. And possibly India. He was uncertain on that point. “Jet lag?” he finally asked.

Sinclair nodded.

“If I’d known I probably wouldn’t have suggested a movie, but it’s fine. I wasn’t exactly worried you were going to make off with my collection of antique silver. If you absconded with the Pocky, however, I might have to kill you. Nothing personal.” He had another sip and watched as amusement flooded back to Sinclair’s face.

“Something changed.”

“You feel asleep,” he said simply.

Sinclair’s brow furrowed for a second, then smoothed out. “Ah.” Then he grinned. “And so did you.”

“Yeah, whatever,” he said, his gaze cutting away for a split second. “Where do you live, anyway?”

“Would you like to visit my den of iniquity? I have a monthly rental right now. Some of the famiglie own buildings and allow people to rent apartments while they’re in the country. And, if you take on the occasional job for whichever famiglia while you’re there, there’s no charge at all.” He paused. “But maybe that’s because I’m so damn good.”

At least he was smug about something he had every right to be smug about. He drained his tea and got up to start a second cup, as well as get a few things out to make breakfast and his lunch with. He covered a yawn and got started, pausing only to pour water into the mug to let it steep, then quickly plated breakfast for two.

He slid them onto the table, got hashi, and brought his tea over. “I wasn’t sure how you felt about a normal Japanese breakfast, so…” He trailed off and started eating. As soon as he was done he was back up and preparing a bento for later, swiftly getting that taken care of and set aside. Sinclair was done by then so he did the washing up and looked around for a moment, then filled Yori’s dishes.

“You’re an efficient little thing.”

He turned a scowl on Sinclair. “I am not little. I’m of average height.”

Sinclair held up his hands in mock surrender. “We on for Saturday?”

He nodded. “If you’re willing to risk it I can just try apparating us there. I think I can do it, but it’s up to you.”

“I’ll risk it. Just have healing stuff on hand, though I can speed up my own healing if necessary.”

“All right.” He glanced at the clock and was about to speak again when Sinclair did.

“I should probably get going. You have to finish getting ready for classes.” Sinclair rose and looked around. “And find Leon.”

“Yori,” he called. “Where’s Leon?”

The two of them scampered in moments later, so Sinclair reclaimed his chameleon, placed him on his hat, and picked it up. “I’ll see you Saturday.”

Hisui just stood there.

Sinclair moved around the table and leaned in. “Ciao,” he said, pressed a soft kiss to Hisui’s lips, then swiftly departed.

He pressed a finger to his lips and looked down for a moment. ‘So this is why girls get all giggly? I had no idea I was capable of a reaction like this.’ He shook his head and went to lock the door, then continued with his morning routine.

He was a bit distracted during classes the remainder of the week, but persevered. It was not as though they needed a lot of brain power anyway. When Saturday rolled around he prepared another bento set and ensured he had healing items and other supplies. Sinclair released Leon to go join Yori after being let in, and Hisui grabbed the stack before offering his arm to his friend.

Sinclair took it without any hesitation, so he apparated to the clearing and set the bentos down. Sinclair let go and breathed deeply. “Distance adds a certain zest to the whole thing,” he remarked dryly, and swallowed hard. “But we’re good.”

“All right,” he said with a brief smile. They stayed longer that day due to travel time being nonexistent, then apparated back. Sinclair had not mentioned dinner yet, and he was feeling a bit bad about him always paying for expensive meals, so he offered a bit diffidently, “I could cook tonight. I was considering trying lasagne. Doesn’t seem too difficult.”

Sinclair smiled at him and nodded. “That sounds great.”

“I’ll need to go shopping, though,” he said, looking toward the kitchen.

Sinclair took the bento stack from him and bussed it into the kitchen and set it by the sink. “So we go shopping.” An hour later they were back and he started in on the sauce after a quick wash. Sinclair taste-tested every so often and finally gave a decisive nod. “That’s perfect.”

A short time later he had everything assembled and in the oven, so he sat down for a smoke. “I hope it tastes as good as it smells.”

“I’m pretty sure it will,” Sinclair assured him. “I’ve eaten a lot of Italian, after all.”

“Well, if not, I can whip something else up quickly enough,” he said with a shrug. “How old were you when your mother died?”

“Eight. After that my father started chasing the ladies and bringing them home. It was awkward, to say the least. And hurtful. I don’t think he had a clue what to do with a kid, so he more or less ignored me, and finally sent me to live with an aunt in Italy. I discovered the joy of mathematics, became flame-active, got noticed and recruited, rather like you were, though I was fifteen when they found me. That famiglia got wiped out, but by then I’d made plenty of contacts and had a reputation, so I didn’t have any problems.”

“Huh. I’m not Japanese.”

Sinclair aimed a look both of surprise and skepticism his way, but his expression quickly changed to thoughtful. “Someone permanently altered your appearance with magic.”

“Yes. To hide my origins. My parents are still alive last I checked.”

“Were you kidnapped?”

He shook his head. “My parents threw me away like trash right around the time I turned one, thinking I was a squib. Couldn’t have that blight on their reputation,” he said a bit bitterly. “My father shelled out a lot of money for someone to spirit me off, make the changes, and dump me in an orphanage far away. All under vow, of course. They had no idea I have an eidetic memory and would retain everything. The guy also tried to obliviate me, so I couldn’t provide any clues after he dumped me, but, as I later found out, doing that to a child is monumentally stupid and can actually be fatal below a certain age. I retained my memories, but I lost all the emotions they had.”

Sinclair aimed a mildly perplexed look at him.

“I remember everything from the time before they decided I was useless—events, words, emotion-driven responses that went with them—but I can no longer recall the emotions from that time. It’s abstract, the idea of parental love, that kind of thing. I eventually concluded that it stunted my emotional development. In any case, according to the newspapers I finally found in an archive, I died an ‘accidental’ death.”

Sinclair’s expression twisted with anger and not a little revulsion. “I’m surprised you haven’t taken out a hit on them.”

“Who could do it?” he pointed out. “You’ve only met one person with both magic and flames: me. If there are others out there who could handle a contract like that, I don’t know them. So, that’s why I have green eyes, even if they aren’t quite the original colour. And I’m succeeding in spite of all that, so…”

Sinclair shook his head slowly, disbelievingly. “They have no idea what they’ve done.”

He shrugged. “My father is a real asshole. Hopefully he’ll screw up and get himself killed in that little scuffle going on in Britain. Maybe her, too. Don’t imagine I’d lose any sleep if they did.”

“Did they have more children?” Sinclair asked, a slight sneer contorting his upper lip.

“Of course they did,” he replied with a plastic smile. “Daddy is a pure-blood, needs a proper heir. Okay, enough of that. I’m becoming—” He made a face.

Sinclair shook his head again and changed the subject. “Have you ever tried creating something and seeing how long it will last?”

“No. Hm.”

“Hypothetical situation, mostly because I’m curious. You create, say—a cat statue. The target takes it home, sticks it on his mantlepiece. Later that night, or a week later, you alter it from a distance and kill with it, then get rid of it. Possibly not at all useful, but on the other hand, possibly useful if you wanted a senbon death from within.”

He pressed a finger against his lips as he considered it, then materialized a statue of Yori on the table. A minor exertion floated it over to the end of the counter. “I guess we’ll see on the time thing.” His mental alarm went off so he glanced at the clock and got up to check the lasagne. It certainly looked ready, so he shut off the oven and pulled the pan out to set on top.

Sinclair helped by getting plates out, though he paused on realizing there was no such thing as western cutlery in the apartment aside from spoons. “Hm.”

“I’ll materialize utensils,” he said with a shrug. “If I start making stuff like this semi-regularly I guess I could buy some real ones.” He opened a drawer and got out a square-end spatula he could both cut and serve with, then plated two portions. As he brought them to the table Sinclair got drinks. A quick bit of concentration created knives and forks for both of them, and then he sliced into his portion and tried it.

“This is good,” Sinclair declared approvingly.

He thought it tasted pretty good, too, though he might have to experiment a little with the cheese mixture. “I agree. I’m pleased with my first effort. I guess if I made it again I should include some sides.”

Sinclair nodded agreeably. “A salad, maybe some kind of garlic bread. Garlic-roasted asparagus, perhaps, or broccoli. I’m a huge fan of garlic.”

“Well, if you’re awake enough,” he teased, “we could watch a movie after.”

That netted him a sarcastic smile. “You’re so funny. But yes.”

They settled in to watch with a second helping of lasagne, and Sinclair commented, on seeing how the villain was using sand, “I wonder if a Mountain Flame could do something like that.”

“I find movies to sometimes be an inspiration,” he replied.

“You could probably do that, too,” Sinclair pointed out, “even if not in the same inherent manner.”

He eyed the screen doubtfully. “Ano… That would be controlling thousands of individual grains at once. I don’t know.”

“You ever heard of the term ‘chunking’?”

He shot a questioning look Sinclair’s way.

“Okay. It’s a method for remembering things, such as a long series of digits. You obviously don’t need help with memory, but… You normally control six senbon. So, say you grouped grains of sand in batches of six, then grouped those batches by six, and so on. You might be able to control large quantities that way. Or maybe not. Just a theory.”

“It’s a thought,” he allowed. “Never a bad idea to explore what you’re capable of flame-wise, I suppose.” He snorted softly. “If I start with the sand attacks, though, I’d probably end up with yet another name.”

“Hm, I wonder…”

He gave his friend a gentle elbow in the side and gestured at the screen. Sinclair dropped his arm around Hisui’s shoulders and settled back to watch again.

“I like Evelyn,” Sinclair commented as the credits started rolling. “She’s feisty.”

“She’s certainly more brave and reliable than her brother.”

Sinclair nodded and squeezed his arm. “You want help washing up?”

“No, it’s fine. Would you like to take some of the lasagne with you?”

Sinclair hummed appreciatively. “Definitely. It’s never quite as good reheated, but I still enjoy it.” He got up to turn off the machines, so Hisui bussed dishes into the kitchen and rummaged for a container.

As he was placing half of what was left into it Sinclair came up behind him and enfolded him in a hug, placing a kiss right in front of his ear. “Thank you for dinner,” he said softly, then pulled away slowly. “How do you feel about visiting the aquarium here on Saturday—take a break from work?”

He finished packaging the lasagne and closed the container, then turned around with it in his hand. “I’d like that,” he said, and lifted his face slightly so he could plant a butterfly kiss on Sinclair’s lips, then pulled back and offered the leftovers.

Sinclair accepted it with a smile. “Ten o’clock again?”

He nodded. “But—”

Sinclair’s brow furrowed. “But?”

“You have to wear casual clothing.”

Sinclair chuckled. “All right. I feel naked without my gun, but I’ll figure something out that will work.”

Hisui reached over and grabbed Sinclair’s hat, then plopped it in place. “Yori? Leon?” he called.

Yori pranced in with Leon on his back. The chameleon was perched such that his tiny forepaws were on Yori’s neck and head. Sinclair reached down so that Leon could crawl up his arm and onto his shoulder, then he straightened up and said, “Ciao,” before turning to leave.

Hisui followed long enough to secure the door behind him, then went to clean up. “I really want to believe he means it,” he told Yori. “It would be nice. I didn’t think I’d ever want anyone, but he keeps growing on me. And I know he does actually trust me, so that’s a huge point in his favor. He actually makes me feel something other than mild enjoyment.”

They carried on a conversation consisting of words and variously-styled meows while he finished up. Yori seemed to be in favor of it, but he was a cat, and Hisui seriously doubted they viewed things the same way. He gave a fatalistic shrug and went about his evening.

When he opened the door the following Saturday he had to pause. Sinclair was wearing a pair of faded Levi’s, deck shoes, and a pale yellow, short-sleeved button-up shirt that was left untucked. He blinked and stepped back, allowing entry. Sinclair—‘Maybe I should start thinking of him by his first name?’ he reflected. ‘We have kissed, after all.’—slipped in and held up another one of those little foil-wrapped boxes.

Hisui closed the door. “I haven’t finished the biscotti yet.”

“Completely different situation,” Renato said with a roll his eyes. “That was an apology gift. These little morsels represent my enduring affection for you.”

His mouth twitched; he accepted the box and laid it on the entry table, then eyed Renato’s outfit again. “You look very nice. Where are you hiding the gun?”

Renato smiled broadly. “I’m going to rely on you to protect me should I get sneak-attacked by enemy mafiosi,” he explained.

‘Okay, that’s kind of a huge neon sign saying he trusts me.’ He checked him over a third time. “Where’s Leon?”

Leon crawled into view from behind Renato’s neck and blinked a hello at him, then scurried down the length of his owner’s body to get the floor.

“You ready?”

He patted his pocket and nodded. “Maybe I can come up with a way for you to carry concealed even with something like that on,” he mused, then reached for the door.

“That would super cool, actually.”

They spent more than a few hours wandering around enjoying the aquatic life and arguing about languages, and then bought food from a street vendor to eat on a nearby bench. “You do realize that I don’t have a damn clue about relationships,” he said in between bites of food.

“Well, yes, I had gathered that.”

“You were my first kiss.”

“…Okay, not all that surprising. Now I almost wish I’d made it … more.”

He thought of a half dozen ways to respond to that, but ended up saying, “I enjoyed it.”

“Then I will simply have to give them to you more often,” Renato said silkily.

He shuffled that promise aside in his head and made another casual scan of the area, not that he honestly expected Renato to be attacked by enemy mafiosi, and continued to eat. Perhaps for a side project he could try to figure out how to send a pulse of magic outward to scan for threats. His flames should cover even that use of magic from the eyes of the Mahō-shō, but that assumed he could make it work in the first place. His flames did not seem at all suited for that sort of endeavor, though using them to be able to sense people in general was fairly simple.

They finished up and headed for the station to return to Hisui’s apartment, and arrived in good time. Once inside Renato said, “Got any games we could play?”

He shot him a slightly suspicious look. “Scrabble.”

“…With Roman letters, I hope.”

He nodded. “Kind of hard to have a multi-language game if all you have is kana tiles.”

“Up for a game, then? I don’t want to end my day with you so soon.”

“Sure.” He went to fetch the box for it. Nana had given it to him as a birthday gift one year and, while he almost never used it—because whom did he have to play against?—he somewhat cherished the set because it had come from his friend. He set it up on the coffee table, and saw that Renato had fetched drinks and smoking supplies for them. He then went to get cushions to perch on while his friend got things ready.

Five minutes in Renato asked, “Do you have a passport?”

“…Yes,” he replied, eyeing both the board and his tiles.

“If I invited you to Italy on your break, what would you say?”

“I would say I wonder what you have in mind.”

“Oo, not an immediate no,” Renato marveled. “Touristy things, basically. It can’t hurt for you to get your first taste of Italy with someone who has their home base there and has lived there for years. And to have a companion with you for your first experience with that kind of travel in general.”

“I suppose so,” he said slowly, and placed down tiles.

Renato jotted down the score and examined his own tiles and the board.

“I had every intention of going at some point,” he allowed as he drew.

“Well. Then I am officially inviting you to come on a holiday with me. Short or long, up to you.” Renato placed his tiles and drew more, then jotted down the score. “And just think,” he purred, “of the glorious biscotti.”

He bit his lip. That was hitting below the belt. But had he not already decided to give this “relationship” a chance? “I have an eight week break, so…” He reached out to bring the biscotti tin to them long enough to get a piece for each of them, and napkins, then sent it back to the kitchen.

“Four weeks?” Renato suggested. “With two weeks to either side here?”

That would not impact his general schedule of jobs, he thought, and placed tiles. Renato had a point. He had never traveled by any method aside from bus or train or cab, and while he was not given to feeling cowardice, the idea was a tiny bit daunting, arranging everything for a trip to a foreign country, alone, though he could have had Daisuke provide advice. “All right.”

Renato restrained himself to a pleased smile and nodded. “I’ll get to work on the arrangements, then.”

“How much experience have you had with magical enclaves?” he asked curiously.

“Just about none,” Renato responded. “When I was trying to figure out the puzzle of your abilities and handsome feline companion, I tapped some resources back in Italy, but I’ve never actually gone to any of those establishments.”

He could hear the silent “why?” tacked onto that statement and obliged, though he had intended to elaborate anyway. “I was wondering if you wanted to visit one. There’s a shopping area in Kyoto. Most of the larger cities have them, though the really big one is in Tokyo. The others are smaller and easier to navigate.”

“I would love to! Do they get all fussy about non-magicals wandering through?”

He shrugged. “Unless someone is waving a wand around it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s magical in the first place, and unlike Britain, most of them don’t wear robes. They wear normal clothing, either Western-style or traditional. Robes are sold as something of a novelty item. I suppose any surprise on your part would be passed off to being a foreigner. I could also check to see what’s available in Italy and maybe we could visit one while there, to see a different take on things. You would have to be with me, though, because non-magicals can’t see the entrances without help. Though once they’ve been to a particular one they might be able to manage it on their own.”

“Not sure I could see myself in a set of robes, anyway,” Renato said.

“They might be de rigueur in Italy for all we know,” he pointed out.

Renato grimaced. “Needs must and all.”

“Can always get you some when we visit around here. We could go tomorrow, or next weekend,” he offered.

“Tomorrow is good.”

He nodded. “Ten o’clock, then. They use normal currency here, but you can’t use something like a credit card. It has to be cash. Strong concentrations of magic can make electronics go weird, though from what I understand there are dampening wards on the outskirts so that the phenomenon doesn’t affect outlying non-magical territory.”

Renato nodded. “Do you keep any of your money in a magical bank? It seems like it’d be a good way to hide it.”

He shook his head. “I don’t want that kind of presence there. No one has paid any particular attention when I’ve visited—I’m just another face in the crowd—but having an account would create a paper trail of sorts.”

“Understandable.”

Somehow Renato won the game, probably due to his mathematical abilities when it came to calculating the best possible options for word scores. He simply smiled a shade smugly, so at least he was not a vexation-inducing sort of winner. He collected Leon and, when they got to the front door, slowly captured Hisui against the entryway wall between his arms, then leaned in to give him a lingering kiss. When he pulled back his expression was searching, and he leaned in again for a second one.

Hisui felt his head spin a little when Renato gently probed with his tongue. His lips parted and he felt that tongue insinuate itself inside his mouth and start moving. His hands came up to grasp Renato’s forearms as his head tilted back slightly and hit the wall. Parts of him were waking up, physically, emotionally, and it was all a bit confusing for him, but pleasurable indeed.

Renato pulled away again, pressing a gentle, fluttery kiss at the corner of his mouth, and said huskily, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Ciao.” And then he was gone.

The next morning Renato was dressed in his customary style, but that was all right. He was greeted with a quick kiss once Renato was inside and given yet another little box. He had been so bemused the night previous that he had yet to open that one. It went on the side table, as usual, and he quickly finished getting ready.

Shortly thereafter he was leading Renato into the shopping district catering to magicals, holding his hand in order to be able to pull him through the protections. Renato was restrained in his reaction, but the widened eyes gave away his interest and excitement. Hisui started at one end and went into any shop of even vague appeal, though he did spend quite a bit of time browsing in a book shop looking for the equivalent of a magical travel guide for Italy, not to mention rune-based enchanting. Renato chose more than a few books for his own consumption.

A relatively quick stop was made at a clothier for a single set of robes for each of them and, as Renato expressed interest in the pet shop, they went in there. Renato spent some time unobtrusively conversing with the chameleons, but was slightly disappointed to find that the most magical thing any of them could do was become invisible in addition to their usual colour-changing antics. “I was kind of hoping they could do something super cool, like change shape or fly or … I don’t know.”

“The shape-changers I’m aware of are nothing you want to mess with,” he replied, and described boggarts to him.

“I’ll pass.”

“It’s unlikely you’ll ever run across one. From what I’ve read they stick to areas with high magical concentrations. For all I know they might simply fall apart if they were without that for any length of time, but I don’t think anyone has ever bothered to do studies. Magicals aren’t exactly the most logical people, or even all that curious,” he said, heading for an eatery.

The fare was not much different from mundane food, though the drinks selection was more varied. They shared a platter of yakitori, and had butterbeer to drink. Someone at some point had migrated the stuff over from Britain. “You would think having magic would be a fertile ground for creativity,” Renato commented quietly after the server had meandered away.

He shook his head. “They’re generally too set in their ways, though I have a feeling the people here are less stuck in the past, oddly enough. Magic makes everything so damn easy that they feel no particular sense of motivation. I think it’s pathetic. I mostly only visit to keep up with world news and replenish any supplies. Magical culture leans toward teaching indolence, even in this country, unfortunately.”

“So, just another resource, not a way of life,” Renato summarized.

“Right.”

Before Renato left with Leon he was treated to another of those deep, slow kisses, though that time Renato enfolded him in his arms and brought one hand up to the back of his neck. He was left breathless and bizarrely squirmy inside. Once he composed himself he investigated both gift boxes. One held marzipan and the other little chocolates, so he had one of each.

His dreams for the next few days were a confused welter of mingling bodies and unaccustomed longing, which made him less attentive than usual during the day. When Wednesday rolled around Daisuke stopped by.

As he extracted a folder from his briefcase he said, “So… How are you and Sinclair getting on?”

He shot a scowl at his handler. “Fine. He was simply curious, as you conjectured, and he’s been helping me with the gun, doing test fires and helping me get better at using it.”

Daisuke gave him a long, searching look, then nodded and handed over the folder. “Another flame-user.”

He supposed he could understand why the man asked; he was probably looking out for his charge, trying to make sure he wasn’t being taken advantage of or something, or being lured away from Biforcuto. “Awful lot of flame-users lately,” he remarked, then started looking through the material.

“They seem to come in waves,” Daisuke said with a shrug. “Maybe there’s some mystical confluence that makes it more likely during certain conditions.”

The target was another minor, in the next town over from Namimori. She was another that had refused recruitment, in an excessively vulgar manner, but then Storms had a tendency to be hot-tempered, rebellious, and prone to rashness, especially when young. Hisui did not feel any twinges over the idea of taking her out, not after reading the list of murders.

The kid had gone flame-active part way through puberty and had put several people in the hospital, and then started killing. Her flames had manifested under stressful conditions and left her victims looking like the after-shots of people caught in violent sand storms, as if their skin had been scoured off, though it was simply the disintegration attribute at work.

He absolutely hated the idea that someone like that was so close to Nana. “I’ll do it,” he said, pushing the folder back. ‘And maybe visit Namimori since I’ll be so close by.’

Daisuke secured it and pulled out a small case about the same dimensions as a folder, though much thicker. “Real ammunition, as well as more plastic bullets. I don’t expect you’ll need more real ones for a long time, but let me know.”

He nodded. “I don’t, either. There’s very little point in wasting any.”

“All right.”

Daisuke got up and departed, so Hisui reached out to flip the deadbolt. He was contemplating how to do the hit when three lazy knocks jolted him back to full awareness. He rose and went to answer the door. Renato was there, smiling charmingly at him. “Eh?”

Renato slipped in and secured the door, then stole a quick kiss. “I just couldn’t stay away, tesoro,” he said dramatically, hand splayed over his heart.

He blinked. ‘Since when did we move along to terms of endearment? Am I supposed to reciprocate with Ren-koi?’

“My heart aches when we’re apart for too long,” Renato added desolately.

“Are you drunk?”

Renato snorted and gave him a wounded look. “Hardly. I’m just happy to see you, even if I was impolite enough not to give you any warning. I saw your contact on my way up. He didn’t see me, though, because I’m just that good. Another job?”

He eyed his friend—boyfriend?—and said, “You couldn’t have missed me that much.”

“I did,” Renato insisted, then produced another foil-wrapped box.

He sighed and accepted it, then went to sit on the couch. Renato joined him and slung an arm around his shoulders.

“Yes,” he replied to the earlier question, bringing over the smoking supplies. “I’ll take care of it this weekend.”

Renato paused with the lighter half way to his cigarette. “You’re going away?”

“Only for a day.” He opened the box against custom and found truffles inside, so he plucked one out and closed the box again, setting it aside. “And no, you can’t come. I had planned to see my friend after, since she’ll be within a reasonable distance.”

“Ah. You don’t want her reporting back your mysterious friend to her husband and him being clued in to a connection to the mafia if she describes me well enough.”

He nodded. “Of course, my luck may be elsewhere this time and he might be there, which would mean having to—” He shuddered.

“Be social like a normal person?” Renato teased.

He scowled and bit off half the truffle, then blinked slowly in pleasure at the taste.

“I’m starting to see how to get you to attack me with wanton abandon,” Renato said teasingly. “I’ll just coat myself in good-quality chocolate and offer myself up as a sacrifice to love.”

He snorted in laughter, unable to help himself. “You are shameless,” he said, and ate the other half.

“Only around you.”

“So we’re a couple now,” he stated, reaching for a cigarette.

“…Yes.” There was amusement and bemusement laced into that single word.

He lit up and took a drag, exhaling slowly. “If I ever catch you messing around with someone else, you won’t live to regret it.”

“Never gonna happen,” Renato said with such firmness and confidence that Hisui felt he could believe it.

He nodded and said, “I am feeling lazy tonight. I don’t really want to cook.”

“That Chinese place delivers. How about I order from there and we can watch bad TV together.”

“Sure.” They discussed what to get for a minute, then Renato got out his cell and made a call. Hisui went into the kitchen to get hashi, napkins, and drinks, then turned on the television and started browsing the channels. He found a rerun marathon of Takeshi’s Castle and settled on that.

Twenty minutes later the doorbell chimed and Renato got up to get the food, then hastened back to the couch. Hisui stopped him before he set the bag down and reached up under the edge of the table. He pushed the table surface up, then pulled it toward him.

Renato blinked and twisted down so he could examine it. “I had no idea the damn thing was on hinges. Why didn’t you do that last time?”

“We were using plates.”

Renato shrugged, sat down, and slid over, then unpacked the bag and set it aside. After a quick investigation they each had their preferred form of sustenance for the evening and went back to watching the hilariously awful game show.

Renato gave him another of those dizzying kisses before he left, and he was visibly reluctant to leave, but go he did. When Hisui finally made it into the kitchen to clean up he noticed that a phone number had been stuck to his refrigerator with a magnet. ‘A nudge to call after I return?’ he wondered.

The next day after classes he again considered the issue of the hit as he tapped out an assignment on his laptop. She was torturing people to death, essentially. After he finished and closed the machine, he slid it into his bag and turned to the issue of Renato being able to carry concealed without needing to wear a jacket. ‘Actually, how does he even get that thing through security measures? Well, he did say he was really good at going unseen.’

Anything he could think of offhand would still, even if carved with runes to make the eye not see the holster, leave a negative impression on his clothing, and people might notice that. It was while he was checking his magical supplies that he began to consider some kind of tricked-up enchanted pouch, except not in the form of a pouch. He shook his head. Renato didn’t have the magic required to use one, not that he could tell, and he had never heard of a magical battery. Runes could be powered by ambient magic, but…

He bought a ticket to Namimori on Saturday, and shortly before the train approached the stop for his target’s location he disillusioned himself in a blind spot and disembarked when the doors opened, then tracked down his target. She was alone (thankfully, or he would have had to come back later) and in a fine froth of anger, walking in circles and swearing vengeance on some girl. Hisui compressed her to nothingness; just another rebellious teen runaway.

Apparation to a safe spot in Namimori followed, and he appeared in the station a short time later, right as the train arrived, and blended into the crowd. Once outside again he headed for an estate agent to browse through potential properties in town, to get a feel for the kind of money he would have to fork over, then found a public phone and called Nana.

“Hisui-kun!” she said happily.

“Hey. I’m in town. Checked on a few things. You have time for a visit?”

“Of course I do! Come right over, okay?”

“See you soon.”

He walked to her house, hands shoved in his pockets, and rang the doorbell. Nana ushered him in with a wide smile and hustled him off to the kitchen. It took a moment for his brain to catch up to that whole part where she was expecting. “Wow,” he said.

She glanced down and touched her stomach. “Mm. Getting real big. It’s almost time for lunch.”

He tilted his head. “Maybe I should cook for you.”

Nana laughed. “You’re so silly. I have so few opportunities to cook for you, so you sit right down and let me do the work.”

“If you’re sure…”

She nodded sharply and got him a soft drink, then started working, so he took a seat at the table. “Maybe at some point I should tease you by calling you Mama.”

She giggled. “Just for that, if I have a girl, I’m going to call her Midori, after you.”

He snorted. “I still think they were being lazy when they named me. Anyway, you’ll be happy to know I made a friend.”

She gasped and aimed wide eyes at him over her shoulder, then got back to work.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s only taken how many years?”

She giggled. “I’m so happy. I keep telling you what a wonderful person you are. And now you have an additional friend. So who is this mystery person?”

“I met him while I was delivering a job. He was interested in the whole thing.” ‘That’s sort of the truth,’ he thought.

“He likes languages, too?”

“Yeah, so we have something in common. It’s, well—it’s nice.”

“Mm, is he at the university?”

“No. It was just chance we met. He’s a bit outrageous at times, but I like spending time with him.”

“Do you have a crush?” she sing-songed.

“What?” He aimed a disbelieving look at her.

“Hisui-kun, you have never once looked at a girl. Is it really so strange for me to ask?” She glanced back over her shoulder and giggled at the look on his face. “You don’t have to say,” she assured him, “but I think it would be sweet.”

‘Okay, good to know,’ he thought, wondering when the hell Nana had become that perceptive. Then again, they had known each other almost their entire lives.

She left off what she was doing and grabbed some dishes down from the cupboard and some hashi and rests from a drawer and got them ready, then checked the rice cooker. “Almost done!” she announced, then went back to the stove. Two minutes later she slid the food onto the table and got herself a drink, then sat down.

“Lovely as always,” he said after his first bite.

They ate for a minute in silence, then she asked, “What were you checking on?”

“Oh, housing prices around here, just to get an idea. I’ve been saving up, so… No harm in checking. I could have just called, I suppose.”

“But then you couldn’t have come to see me.”

He nodded. “Not that I need an excuse.”

“You don’t,” she agreed.

He went on alert when he heard the front door open and close, and footsteps coming down the hall. Sawada entered the kitchen a moment later and beamed at Nana, who rose to greet him before hustling him to a seat.

“The food is still warm! Let me get you some,” she said, then hastened to do just that. When she slid the new dish onto the table she paused, looking between them. “Oh my, I forgot. Hisui-kun, you had to hurry back, didn’t you, and weren’t able to stay for the reception.” She made introductions and sat back down, telling Sawada, “You remember me telling you about Hisui-kun. He was in town checking on real estate.”

Sawada eyed him, then smiled broadly. “So you’re the one who’s kept my Nana-chan safe all these years!”

He nodded. He could almost see a sharp edge to that smile. “Friends do that,” he said evenly.

“So, you attend Kyoto University? Very prestigious,” Sawada commented.

“I worked hard to be accepted.”

“You’re too modest,” Nana said. “You could have gone to the University of Tokyo if you wanted to.”

He shook his head. “Too far away, but I did take a look when I visited there last year on summer break. I’m happy in Kyoto.”

“What are you going to do this year, then?” she asked.

“My friend and I are going to Italy. You had such good things to say about it, after all.”

A mischievous smile appeared on her face. “I see.”

He rolled his eyes slightly. “Don’t start. I was tempted with biscotti.”

Nana giggled madly. “It is good! Have you tried making it?”

He shook his head. “I did make lasagne, though, after going to an Italian restaurant. I wasn’t one hundred percent satisfied with it, but I think with a little tweaking of the filling it would be perfect.”

“Well, if you’re going to visit Italy, you’ll get a much better idea,” Sawada said. “It’s never quite the same at a restaurant in a different country.”

“A fair point,” he allowed. “I also tried French and Thai.”

Nana gave him another wide-eyed look. “Your friend is a miracle worker!”

He scowled at her. “You make it sound like I’m—I don’t know—hopeless or something.”

“Obviously not,” she replied tartly, “if your friend can manage to get you into foreign restaurants and not have to drag you there. Oh, you’re going to have so much fun on your trip! It’s very pretty there.”

“I can only hope, based on the pictures I’ve seen.”

Sawada remained mostly quiet for the remainder of the time he was there, but Hisui could see that the man was carefully observing as he and Nana continued talking. He begged off after that, still not feeling all that comfortable around Sawada, and caught a train home.