Grazhir :: Crossover :: Hisui :: 04

04: 2001

He realized after the fact that there was no evidence of the hit and gave Daisuke a call to request a visit, as it was not the kind of thing you spoke of on the phone. Once he was there Hisui explained the situation and was assured it would be fine after a missing persons report was filed. It was around five when Daisuke left so he gave Renato a call to let him know he was back safe.

That, of course, resulted in Renato angling for an invite, which he gave. Renato showed up with his usual gift and gave him a soft kiss in greeting. “Ciao! How was your friend?”

“She was fine,” he said, then scowled. “Her husband showed up part way into lunch. He seemed hyper-aware at first, but relaxed a bit after a while. Pretty sure I won’t have to dodge any assassins in the near future.”

“That’s good. I’d hate to have kill your friend’s husband in retaliation,” Renato said, then wrapped an arm around him and ushered him off toward the couch.

“You’re being pushy again,” he complained. “I was surprised to see how far along she is, though considering she already told me the expected due date I’m not sure why.” Once they were seated he added, “She seems to think I have a crush on you.”

Renato brows went up as set the box down. “What on Earth did you say to her?”

“That I liked spending time with you.”

Renato tilted his head to the side and considered that, then nodded. “I suppose I can see why she had the thought. I assume the job went well.”

“Yes. One fewer psycho on the streets. No real progress on that little project, though. Some magical things can be used by you, but what I thought of so far, not so much. I’ll have to do some more research.”

Renato shook his head slightly. “It would be super cool if you can figure it out, but if not, don’t stress over it.”

“I don’t think I have a crush.”

Renato eyed him in amusement. “What do you think it is, then?”

“I like you.”

Renato nodded, then gave him a sly smile. “Do you like me enough to let me ravish your delectable mouth?”

He stared. “Fine.”

Renato looked slightly taken aback, and he realized he had used a word of assent that generally meant he was uncomfortable to some extent. So he leaned in to initiate a kiss for the second time in their relationship. The next thing he knew he was laid out on the sofa and being kissed passionately, making his head swim and the rest of him come alive.

Sounds were coming from his throat that would be highly embarrassing if he were in a more rational state of mind. His skin tingled where Renato’s form was pressed up against him and it seemed like half his body was blushing from the sense of heat he could feel. His head went back when Renato moved away from his mouth to nibble his jawline on the way to his neck and murmur in his ear in Italian between kisses and nips.

Hisui simply was not used to feeling so much emotion so strongly, and shortly after Renato reclaimed his mouth his whole body stiffened up and he exploded in a way. His heart was racing a mile a minute and he could no longer breathe right. Renato pulled away slightly and kissed the corners of his mouth softly, then his eyelids. “I like you,” was whispered in his ear.

As his brain stopped melting and started to firm up again he found it within himself to wonder if that was meant in the Japanese way or some other. “I like you, too,” he whispered back, resolving to give a damn about the distinction some other time. His eyes slid open half way to see a tender expression on Renato’s face. He lifted his head to give him a little kiss, then paused. “Ano… I need to go clean up.”

Renato nodded and slowly pulled away. “Okay.”

He got up a little unsteadily and wandered off to shower and change clothes. When he returned Renato was watching television with Yori and Leon, but he looked over with a breathtaking smile and patted the back of the couch in invitation. He sat down and was immediately pulled closer and handed a napkin with a piece of biscotti on it.

He blinked at the offering and accepted it. “Thank you,” he said, then took a bite.

“So, since you were out on a job today, would you like to do some practice tomorrow instead?”

He paused mid-chew and looked over inquiringly.

“Could work on speed, or aim, or even messing around with some sand. Whatever comes to mind, basically. I like spending time with you. Doesn’t matter doing what.” Renato gestured at the TV. “Even watching bad Japanese game shows.”

He resumed chewing with a small smile, and swallowed. “I … really enjoyed that,” he said quietly.

“Let’s do it again sometime. Oh, I’ve made the arrangements for our flights, but I forgot to bring over the itinerary. I can do that tomorrow. And if you want to see any place in particular it’ll give me a chance to ensure reservations at hotels.”

“I would prefer to mostly stay away from anything overtly mafia-related.”

Renato nodded. “Not a problem. It’s a holiday, after all, not a meet and greet.”

“There’s a magical enclave in Genoa, so we should go there, take a look.”

“Somehow I’m not surprised you didn’t say Rome,” Renato said dryly.

He scoffed. “Mm, I don’t think magicals are all that comfortable with camping out right next to the Pope.”

Renato snickered. When it got late he reluctantly got up and looked around for Leon, who had gone off again somewhere with Yori, then gave Hisui a lingering kiss at the door. But before he could actually leave Hisui slipped a key into his hand.

“What’s this?” Renato asked, staring down at his hand in bemusement.

He frowned. “Are you blind?”

“Oo, with this I could sneak in at night and do such wicked things to you,” Renato said with a dreamy smile.

“You make all this sound like one of those cliché manga story lines,” he complained.

Renato gave him a skeptical look. “You read manga?”

“No. But I sure as hell overhear enough about it from giggly girls between classes.”

Renato chuckled, gave him another kiss, and said, “Ten o’clock,” then left.

He investigated that evening’s gift and found it contained four chocolate-dipped strawberries. He was in such an indulgent mood he ate all of them, then went to plan the next day’s lunch.

The next afternoon Renato laid the flight information on the table and shoved it over, then spread out a map. “I was thinking we could go here,” he said, tapping a number of spots in succession. “Spend a few days in each.”

“Sure,” he said agreeably. They would be flying in and out of Milan.

“I’ll arrange for a rental car to be waiting at the airport, so that won’t be an issue.” Renato proceeded to give him an idea of what could be expected in the way of interest in each of the locations, plus the surrounding territory, with Hisui taking careful mental notes. Renato ravaged him against the front door before he left, with a promise to see him on Saturday for another round of practice and brainstorming.

He snapped out of a daydream half way through a lecture on Arabic and nearly blushed. He had drifted off into thinking about Renato’s mouth on his like one of those giggly girls in high school in the throes of a crush. He face-palmed, ignoring that his nearest seat partner was giving him a bewildered look. Maybe he should just fling some liquid chocolate at Renato as an excuse and jump him. Surely his lover would get the hint? Or he could just come right out and say he wanted … more. He wasn’t any good at this kind of thing!

He scowled at his seat partner for looking at him funny and tried to appear interested in listening to something he had read about and memorized weeks ago. He never used to have feelings like this! His thoughts paused, his gaze sliding off to the side. That was a good thing, wasn’t it? Maybe the damage from all those years ago was—well, not being repaired, but…

He snorted. That sounded like some horribly cliché story where love conquered all. ‘Kami-sama, I could really use a cigarette right about now.’ He glanced at the clock and sighed. Five minutes later it occurred to him that Renato had Sun Flames. Were they having some kind of effect on him, even inadvertently? Or as some subconscious initiative on Renato’s part?

‘Should I really be fucking analyzing this?’ he thought irritably. ‘Screw the potential reason. If I want more, I should say so! Who the hell cares why?’

He was out of his seat like a shot when the lecture ended and quickly made it to his usual spot for apparation. He was home seconds later and lighting up, thrilled beyond measure that it had been his last class for the day and he could fume in peace. Yori meowed curiously at him, so he said, “I think I want to have sex.”

Yori’s tail curved into a question mark.

“I know, it’s not like I’ve ever given a damn before.”

The vocalization Yori made was the same one he used as a greeting for Hisui’s lover.

“Of course with Renato!”

Yori paced over to the phone and looked up at it pointedly.

“Yeah, yeah. You just want to see Leon again.”

How a cat managed to make that face was beyond him.

“Oh, fine,” he drawled. “I’ll have my lover over and you can see yours.”

With a smug flip of his tail, Yori stalked off.

“I think I just lost an argument with my cat, somehow,” he muttered as he stubbed out his cigarette. Renato answered on the second ring and promised to be over shortly, so he went and took a shower.

When he exited the bathroom Renato was having a conversation with the pets. He looked up and smiled warmly, then hastened over, reaching up to play with Hisui’s hair. “I just realized how long it’s getting.”

“I want to have sex,” he said.

Renato was stronger than he looked—or he was cheating with Sun Flames—because after a blink of surprise he picked Hisui up as if he weighed nothing, carried him off to the bedroom, and deposited him on the bed. Seconds later he was on his back and looking up at Renato’s face.

“I was expecting we’d be taking things a tiny bit slower than that,” Renato commented.

“You don’t want to?”

“Of course I want to,” Renato purred with a leer. “I’ve wanted to from the moment I saw you. I just didn’t expect you to jump from delectable kissing to wanting to make love so quickly.” He took one of Hisui’s hands and gently laved a finger with his tongue. “There’s a lot to be learned, you know.”

‘Kami-sama. Who knew my fingers were so…’

“There’s so much of you to appreciate,” Renato continued, then ran his tongue up the inside of Hisui’s wrist. Nimble fingers undid the shirt he had tossed on and that mouth moved to roam over his chest.

He rather lost track of what was going on for a while, until that soft, warm tongue was on his cock. His eyes rolled back even though they were closed, and his hips lifted of their own accord. He felt a hand press down at his hip, restraining him gently, then ghost over to hold him. ‘Oh,’ he thought, but it came out as a long, low moan. Before he knew it he was exploding again, right into Renato’s mouth.

A short time later the corner of his mouth was being kissed, but he reached up to turn it into a real one before saying, “What about you?”

Renato pulled back a little and smirked. “I’m all yours, tesoro, if you want to try.”

He nodded after a second, and Renato pulled away to lie down next to him, angling his head to give him a look. He rolled onto his side, then moved to hover over his lover, and tried to mimic the basics of what he remembered Renato doing. But he realized quickly that he needed to listen, to take into account how Renato was reacting—sounds, the way he breathed, or moved.

He shuffled that off to the side in his head and moved lower. ‘Okay,’ he thought some time later. ‘Swallowing is a good idea.’

Renato managed a weak chuckle and pulled him up into a kiss. “Didn’t think of that, huh?” he murmured.

“Shut up.”

“So what would you like to do Saturday?” Renato inquired, shifting Hisui so he was cradled along his side.

“Ano… I think I’d like to try controlling more senbon at once. I’m already so familiar with them that if I get the concept down with that…”

“Sounds reasonable. Hm.”

“What?”

“I was wondering how well you could move other people about. I assume you can fly.”

“Yes, and I don’t know. We could try it. But don’t get too upset if I drop you a few times.”

Renato snorted softly. “So long as any damage is minimal I can jump-start my regeneration and heal myself pretty quickly, remember?” Then he let out a long, low chuckle. “And give myself amazing stamina.”

*

They were lounging on the window seat of the room they had rented the night previous when the attack started. Genoa’s magical shopping enclave was pretty and old world, and not discordantly different in appearance from the older mundane areas, though without the trappings of modern society. The cigarette in Hisui’s hand trembled and dropped ash as he watched a score of masked, black-cloaked people arrive, led by a bare-faced, robed man, and start to send violent spells at those down on the street.

“Shit. Stay here, Ren-koi. Shoot out the window if you must, but don’t leave the damn room,” he said, then disillusioned himself and flew off, higher up, so he could get a better view of the fight. When he heard someone scream “Death Eaters” he knew what they were dealing with. Never having seen one, not even in one of the newspapers, it was no surprise he had been clueless until that moment.

He materialized two dozen senbon, his current limit, and sent them flying, six headed for the leader and the others targeting those nearest him. Before they went down he was planning out who to send them through after, though he could see that Renato was picking people off with startling speed and accuracy. Several got away, which was unfortunate, but that could not be helped. He released his senbon and returned to the room, dropping the spell.

Renato didn’t so much as twitch. He angled the cigarette in his mouth to the side and said, “The leader. He disintegrated.”

“…So it was him? I wondered when I got a better look at him.”

Renato nodded and stood up. “I’m thinking we should probably make ourselves scarce.”

“I agree. I can disillusion us and apparate to the parking garage. We can head off to our next stop early?”

“Yeah.” Renato took a last drag and stubbed out his cigarette.

Ten minutes later they were driving away. “I wonder…”

“Recruiting, you think?” Renato asked. “He’s already been traipsing all over France from what I’ve heard. Maybe he comes in with his bunch, terrorizes the local populace, then leaves them there to start forcibly recruiting while he takes another bunch elsewhere to do the same?”

“And Italy is right next door, so to speak. He disintegrated? What the hell does that mean?”

Renato gave him a quick look, then concentrated on the road again. “You seemed restless earlier after we got up, uneasy.”

He frowned in thought and stared sightlessly out the window. “Yeah, I guess I was. Where are you going with this?”

“I’m not sure yet, but when I figure it out I’ll let you know.”

“It sounds pathetic that he has to keep recruiting in other countries,” he remarked. “He and his people aren’t even strong enough to handle the situation. Either there are some excellent combatants in Britain on the side of so-called good or his value as a strategist is abysmal.”

“Hopefully the bastard will stay out of Asia, and away from anything outside Britain aside from magical enclaves. If he can’t even subdue one country…”

They ran into Renato’s friend Shamal in Pavia, where he was working on his degree. He seemed both lazy and hyper to Hisui. The only time he seemed to calm down was when there were no women around (younger ones, anyway) or he was in classes (or so he heard). They were meandering down a street window shopping when Renato laid a hand on his arm and gestured with the other. “That’s Shamal,” he said with amused resignation, indicating a dark-haired man flitting from woman to woman.

“He’s like a hummingbird.”

“Apt description. Yo, Shamal!” Renato called.

Shamal froze mid-pucker and then pivoted, the woman he was after forgotten. “Renato,” he said. He quick-stepped over and eyed Hisui avidly, then deflated. “Oh. Who’s this?”

‘Did he think I was a flat-chested woman or something?’ “Hisui, Renato’s lover,” he replied.

Shamal blinked. “I had no idea you leaned that way.”

Renato scoffed. “I know a priceless treasure when I see one.”

“So, uh, how did you two meet?” Shamal asked, looking at them with a faintly puzzled expression.

Renato looked sidelong at Hisui, smirk firmly in place, then said, “We bumped into each other at a hotel bar. Kept running into each other after that—it was like fate.”

“More like stalking,” he muttered.

“You did allow me to catch you,” Renato pointed out.

“Wow,” Shamal said wonderingly. “Let’s go get something to eat and talk!”

Hisui allowed Renato to order for him, because he was certain his lover knew his tastes well enough by then that he would pick something new for him to enjoy. That way he could concentrate on puzzling out this friend, a man who seemed to think if he just tried a little harder he could love and keep all the women in the world at once, or at least large numbers of them at a time. How he managed to concentrate enough to get through his studies was simply not something Hisui’s brain could compute.

“You don’t talk much, do you?” Shamal aimed his way.

“Not usually, but I make an exception for people I don’t dislike.”

“Odd way to word it.”

He shrugged and sipped his wine, then set the glass aside when the server arrived with their meals.

“So, tell me about the man who’s captured Renato’s heart,” Shamal prompted, cutting into his veal and then giving a little moan after tasting it.

“I am a student of Linguistics, translator, and formerly a cook.”

Shamal did a double-take. “Cook? Renato? You bagged a cook?”

Hisui furrowed his brow and started contemplating malicious spells to put to use.

“Are you any good? Because I could see going for a man if he was an exceptional cook. Maybe. You look girly enough. I could deal. Briefly.”

His brows drew down to frightening depths. “You did not mention he was so … impolite.”

“Now, now,” Renato said, reaching over to stroke the back of his neck for a moment. “I know what that word means.”

He favored his lover with a plastic smile and considered shooting an impotence spell under the table.

Shamal looked between them. “What on Earth are you talking about?”

“You really don’t want to know,” Renato cautioned. “You probably subsist on delivery or takeout.”

“Of course. It’s not like I have a whole lot of time to spend on mastering a skill like that. I manage to get into restaurants often enough for a proper time, though. Ah, but the ladies, they’re what make it all worthwhile. Just the thought that at some point I’ll be able to treat them…”

‘To further sexual harassment? And this guy is a hitman?’ He simply listened after that, not entirely sure what had prompted a friendship between the two. ‘But perhaps it has to do with a shared job title?’

“So you heard about that whole blowup a couple months ago?” he heard Shamal say, and wondered why he would be bringing mafia business up in front of a supposed outsider, even if the reference was oblique.

“Yes, it was … shocking,” Renato said, then changed the subject.

‘I’m starting to not care if people know,’ he thought, ‘but I still have plenty of school left. Last thing I want is to be inundated with a bunch of offers. Maybe they’d let me speed up a mastery or even a doctorate? If I could get through those in half the time…’

Shamal took off outside the restaurant, after an open offer to meet up again while they were in town. While the two of them were moving along to investigate the next vendor’s goods a man eased on up casually and eyed Renato. Hisui was given a quick, dismissive glance. The man pulled an envelope from his pocket and showed it to Renato.

Hisui found it puzzling simply for the fact that it had brilliant orange flames emanating from a wax seal on the back flap. None of the people on the street gave it so much as a second look.

Renato made an annoyed sound after a glance. He turned to Hisui and murmured, “Give me a minute?”

He nodded and watched as his lover moved away with the man to a spot not far distant, and leaned up against the nearby wall to wait.

A minute or so later he saw Renato hold up a finger, then head his way. He said quietly, “Job offer. I should have known they’d notice I was in the country. How upset do you think your friend would be if you took on a job through someone else? Because this is a two-man job and I think it’d be fantastic for us to do one together. But it’s your break, and you—”

He silenced him with a quick press of a finger to his lips. “Depends on who it is, I suppose.”

“The Vongola. Seems after that attempted coup d’état the boss is looking for potential non-Varia hitmen he can trust with certain things. This is a major opportunity and I’m reluctant to dismiss it out of hand.”

“And if I say yes, that means my identity gets out,” he murmured, and hummed thoughtfully. “You said the Vongola is mostly upright.”

Renato nodded. “And Biforcuto might not be allied with them, but neither are they enemies.”

“This guy even going to take me seriously?”

“He will if I point out that you’re Phantom.”

He snorted at that name. It was a lot sooner than he had wanted, but… It was not a bad idea to make contacts within the Vongola, not with his long-term future in mind. “I hope whatever job it is doesn’t push any of my negatives,” he said with a shrug, then cast a little spell that would blur his appearance in the contact’s memory. He had no particular skill with magical illusions aside from disillusionment, but the spell he used was something of a hybrid between charms and mind magic, something he had learned on whim one day with the idea of using it someday for the purposes of infiltration. It wasn’t very strong, but hopefully it would keep him as something of a mystery.

If they had people out reporting when freelancers were moving around the country, they might actually have photographs of him in Renato’s company, which was annoying. He would have to see about making some alterations to the airline records and use a few more spells to make the staff on their way back not object to the alteration of name he was already planning to enact. “Okay, let’s go talk to the man.”

The man in question, one Antonio Labriola, was visibly unhappy at first on seeing Renato bring his companion with him, but after Hisui was introduced as “Phantom” his expression slid into curiosity. The three of them found a spot to sit down and Antonio offered the envelope again.

Renato opened it and held the letter between them. Prostitution ring on Vongola territory, with unwilling goods. The job was to take out the people involved, then alert their contact once they were dead. A Vongola clean-up crew would descend to both sanitize the site and get the victims to safety and provide medical care. The pay was a little low considering, but he likened it to the first job he had ever been offered, how it was a test, and paid out accordingly. He nodded and looked at Renato, who also nodded.

“He wants it done quiet,” Antonio said. “On completion you’ll be given a key for a temporary holding account.”

He almost pointed out that they could “sanitize” certain things themselves, but checked himself when he realized they would want proof of sorts and an idea of how they worked. That limited his options slightly—no (de)compression, for example—but he would be fine using senbon. He had already carved runes into Renato’s favored gun to negate the sound it made on firing, to obviate the use of a suppressor, though he had to charge the runes personally every so often. It was the kind of thing that made him wonder if flames could be used to do the charging, but had yet to get around to designing a test case. If that worked, perhaps he could make progress on concealed carry for his lover.

Antonio set a small case he had with him on the table and turned it sideways, then opened it. From it he extracted various papers, amongst them blueprints for the building they’d be entering. Hisui took those to burn into memory, then traded with Renato so he could look over the hit list. Men, twenty of them—cooks, handlers, facilitators—all involved in kidnapping people to be chained in rooms for the sexual pleasure of people who liked to buy a fantasy.

“Time frame?” Renato asked.

“As soon as possible,” Antonio said.

“Not a problem,” Hisui replied. “It’ll be done before you know it.”

Antonio produced a business card with his name and number on it for them. “Excellent. I’ll expect to hear from you soon.”

Once he was gone they resumed window shopping on the way back to their room, then settled in for a discussion. “Let me check those runes,” he started with, and Renato handed over his gun. He felt up the carvings while smirking at his lover, pushing magic into them, then handed it back.

“All charged up and raring to go?”

He smiled. “So, twenty men. When do you want to go in?”

“Daytime. They don’t open for ‘business’ until eight. That gives us plenty of time during the day. Perhaps eight in the morning? Three floors. We can split up or take each floor together.”

“The Vongola has an interesting way of sealing documents,” he commented, thinking about scenarios first.

“Yes. It’s impossible to fake so far as I know. Sky flames like that…”

“How about we do the ground floor together, then split for the final two. I can make it to the second floor very quickly, so we would be hitting them at roughly the same time.”

Renato nodded. “Sounds reasonable. So, a day’s stakeout first, then move in the morning after?”

“Sure.”

“All charged up and raring to go?” Renato repeated.

“Yes. So get over here.”

The spent part of the evening spying on the building from the safety of disillusionment and a handy, decorative balcony on a nearby building, then returned the next morning to continue. Things settled down at around four o’clock in the morning, so in theory the inhabitants would be asleep when they planned to go in, assuming an hour or two for aftermath care.

They spent the afternoon enjoying the city, had a wonderful meal at the hotel that evening, and retired for the night. The next morning they were back at the site and entering noiselessly from a back door that Hisui unlocked with his flames. They stood there in the small entry room, silently, as he reached out with his Earth Flames for the gravitational disturbances caused by people.

“There are three people,” he whispered into Renato’s ear, “off in that room.” He pointed through the arch into the kitchen at a door off in the corner. “Two in the reception room, probably passed out from too much alcohol given the way they’re positioned. First floor has twelve people. The rest are on the second floor.”

Renato nodded slightly and turned his head so he could whisper back. “Get the reception room, then head up. I’ll take the three in here and move to my floor.”

He nodded and ghosted off to the reception room, preparing senbon along the way. Two of the decadent sofas in there had men sprawled on them. One was drooling, his saliva dripping down to the crack between the arm and the cushion. He grimaced and sent his weapons flying in the usual pattern. That sofa had just gotten a lot more messed up with bodily fluids.

He released the senbon and created new ones so that no blood would transfer, and sped off into the entrance hall and up the stairs. His floor had five victims—three women and two men—as well as eight of the targets. He took care of them dispassionately and quickly, then returned to the ground floor.

Renato joined him just a minute later and jerked his head toward the kitchen. They ghosted off and exited the building, then made their way to a much busier street, where Renato got out his phone and made the call. Once he was done he said, “See, this is why having a cell phone is so handy.”

He rolled his eyes. “Sure, whatever.”

“Great! I know just the model I plan to get you,” Renato said happily. “Wait here a second,” he said, then ducked into a shop and returned with coffee, a soft drink, and a bag of cornettos.

Hisui nodded in appreciation and found a shaded bench for them to sit on, then sat back to have a snack. An hour later Antonio strolled into the area, spotted them, and wandered over to offer a card. Hisui had a free hand so he accepted it and took in the information with a glance, then tucked it into Renato’s breast pocket.

“Nice job,” Antonio complimented. “Clean, quiet. There a number we can reach you at?”

Renato fetched out a card and handed it over. “For now, both of us. I plan to convince my friend here of the wonders of mobile phones.”

He sighed and sipped his drink.

“Excellent. I’m sure we’ll be speaking again.” Antonio gave them a nod and slipped away.

“Sure,” he muttered.

Renato finished up his snack and they returned to their holiday activities. They were in Cremona when a call came in on Renato’s phone. “Hold that thought,” he said and hit mute, then said, “Labriola. You up for another one?”

“That was quick,” he commented. “Sure.”

Renato nodded and had a quick exchange with Antonio, then hung up and tucked the phone away. “We’ll meet him in two hours. They probably want another look before we fly out. I’m sure someone there has already tracked down our flight information.”

“Yeah, about that…”

They rendezvoused at a park, seated at a table beneath the sheltering branches of a large tree. “Rivals trying to move in,” Antonio opened with after a greeting. “Seem to think starting a drug trade here would be just the thing, and that we wouldn’t notice.” He opened his little briefcase and produced another of those Sky Flame-sealed envelopes to hand over.

Renato opened it and shared it between them. The Vongola Nono wanted all but one of them killed, and for a statement to be made. Hisui pressed a finger against his lower lip as he read. ‘I can certainly do messy, and if Renato goes for the head…’ He also noticed the fee had gone up by a fair amount per target. He nodded slightly at his lover and popped a grape in his mouth.

Two days later they were at the site and acting. Hisui plastered one of the targets against the ceiling and wrapped a temporary obsidian blindfold around the guy’s eyes, then they took aim. Renato was using explosive bullets, and he was decompressing heads. The blinded fellow could hear all of his buddies dying and would shortly see just what had happened, and hopefully get the message and bring it back to the others in his famiglia.

They retreated a bit to make the call, then stuck around under disillusionment to see how it played out. As soon as his gravitational net sensed the Vongola team approaching Hisui released the captive. A set of binoculars allowed him to see the guy tumble to the floor and cradle his side, then slowly recover and look around at the carnage. Less than a minute later the Vongola swept in. The rival took one look at them and fled.

An hour later the call came in, so they met up at an outdoor café. Hisui was enjoying a ham and cheese panino when Antonio claimed a seat. “Nice,” he said, and slid over another card.

Hisui took in the contents at a glance before Renato picked it up to tuck away.

“I understand you two will be returning to Japan soon,” Antonio commented. “If it should come up, will you be available to handle any jobs that way?”

Renato nodded straight off. Hisui, however, said, “Assuming targets richly deserve to die, yes. I don’t go after petty thugs.”

“Ah, yes, we did a little checking,” Antonio replied. “We have a very good idea of what you’ll go for.”

“Then yes, so long as it doesn’t interfere with my schedule.”

“Excellent. We’ll be in touch.”

The remainder of their time in Italy was quiet, and Hisui amassed a number of cookbooks to later investigate, a handful of souvenirs to display in his apartment, and rather too much double chocolate biscotti.

On the off chance that he would need it, after they returned, he visited Renato’s apartment and chose an apparation location. Renato was fine with the idea of having any Vongola contacts go there if necessary, rather than intruding on Hisui’s home. He would have warded the place against electronic spies, but there was still the issue of a lack of ambient magic.

Renato bought him a cell phone and took great delight in teaching him how to use it. He was just showing him how to text when the doorbell rang and Yori chirred in a “Daisuke” way. Hisui reached out to open the door to let him in, and nodded when Daisuke settled into the side chair.

“So, how was your trip?”

He looked away from the phone. “It was educational.”

“Heard some rumors.”

He gave Daisuke a flat look. “That was so subtle I could barely comprehend what you were hinting at. Yes, I helped do a few jobs for the Vongola.” He accepted a card from Renato and handed it over. “You may or may not want to get in touch with this fellow; he knows me as Phantom. Hopefully the impromptu measures I took have kept my real identity out of this. Right now he only has Ren-kun’s number.”

Renato shook the new phone as a reminder.

“Right.” He rattled off the number so that Daisuke could enter it into his phone. “I’m keeping it on vibrate, so if you really need to get ahold of me, a text message might be better.”

Daisuke nodded. “You up for a job, or do you want to wait until your break is over?”

“What have you got?” The folder he was handed revealed a Lightning who was killing people during thunder storms with arcs of Lightning Flame. “This one at least seems to have some brains,” he muttered. A young man, approached for recruitment, even if his targets were a bit dicey. He had refused, badly wounding the recruiter. He flipped through the supporting material and nodded. “I’ll blow his damn head off,” he said and pushed the folder back.

Daisuke tucked the folder away in his briefcase and gave Renato a speculative look.

“Yes, I’m open to jobs.”

Daisuke smiled. Before he left he got Renato’s cell number.

“Kobe sure has a lot of psychos,” he mused. “Maybe it’s something in the water supply.”

Renato shook his head and got back to explaining the functions of the phone.

*

“It’s a really interesting job,” Renato said enthusiastically.

“You and six others?” he said skeptically. “Isn’t that a bit excessive?”

“I think it’ll be fun. Now, get that shield up and I’ll try shooting the edge. See how it holds up.”

He sighed, a sense of uneasiness creeping up his spine, and blossomed a gravitational disturbance around him like a sphere. “I hope you do the math.”

Renato favored him with a sarcastic smile, aimed, and fired. The bullet hit the shield and ricocheted off, its path decaying rapidly both from the shape change and the loss of momentum. “Perfect. Ready for another, closer to center?”

“Yeah. Go ahead.”

Renato fired again, and again, and Hisui was ready for it to fail and for him to have to catch a bullet directly before it could plow through a limb or, worse, his heart, but the shield held and kept deflecting things exactly as Renato had calculated. His lover mentioned trying an RPG, but he was smiling when he said it, so Hisui knew it was a joke.

“It’s interesting how subtle your aura is when you’re using flames,” Renato said once they were back at the apartment. “Even when you’re manifesting that power around you I can barely see anything.”

He arched a brow. “It’s not as though yours is exactly flamboyant, Ren-koi. But for mine, I suppose it’s because gravity is invisible? You can only see it as a byproduct.”

“True. Most of mine works internally, unless I’m specifically targeting someone else.”

“If I have my way about it, you won’t be able to see anything at all. I’d rather people not notice ahead of time that I have a barrier, should it ever come to a fight.”

“How do you think magic would be affected?” Renato asked, eyeing the yakisoba Hisui was preparing.

He exhaled heavily. “I would like to think it would also ricochet or be spun off,” he replied. “Magic may as well be called a type of energy, and everything is subject to gravity. Huh. That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it. I guess I won’t know until it happens, if ever.”

“Eh?”

“I can only ‘anchor’ it around myself,” he said, reaching out to bring plates from the cupboard and set them on the counter. “The most I could try is to bounce spells off a mirror, assuming that’d even work. I’ve never found a reason to try prior to now. When I use gravity against someone else, I’m coming at them from the outside, enclosing them. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective, if I can visualize it properly in my head, to make it work away from me, but as it stands, I am the core, the Earth, and it all moves in relation to me, not in relation to what I’m affecting. Perhaps if I were a mathematician as you are, I would find it to be a lot simpler, but I’m not.”

“I see,” Renato said slowly. “And I can unload equations and diagrams on you until I’m blue in the face and it won’t do a damn thing except annoy you in the end.”

He looked over with a small smile, then starting plating the meal.

Renato was away for a week, but on Saturday they were back at the clearing, trying a different idea. Hisui was materializing a series of squarish obsidian plates and spinning them around himself at high speed. Renato tried firing at the edges of the shaped sphere, and the bullets were spun off in directions dependent on where they first impacted.

“I think I prefer the gravity sphere,” he said. “Less obvious. But this would hide me from view, I suppose, though I’m drawing a blank as to why I’d do that. Unless it was to disillusion myself, release them, and move to a new position.” He bit his lip, then shrugged. “Or I could just move so fast they never saw it happen.”

He was annoyed that Renato said nothing about his recent job, and also mildly suspicious. That nagging sensation of uneasiness had lessened, but it was still there.

“Well, I wouldn’t use it when there are allies around,” Renato said. “Not everyone can calculate like I can, and even I have a limit as to how many variables I can handle at once. But if you were in a bad situation, the visible ‘armor’ would be an interesting tactic and potentially highly lethal, turning attacks back like that.”

He shrugged again and turned toward the mirror they had brought along. “Right. Let’s try something simple.”

Renato took a seat over at the makeshift table and braced himself against the wood with one arm.

Hisui shot off a tickling charm at the mirror and was hit a moment later on the bounce-back, but clenched his jaw for the second the spell lasted. He nodded, set himself, manifested the sphere, then released it with an annoyed sound.

“What’s wrong?”

He gave Renato a look. “I was very nearly an idiot who sent a spell from inside the sphere.” He focused on the mirror again, recast the spell, and immediately manifested the sphere. The tickling spell ricocheted off and splashed harmlessly against a tree. He tried a few more tests with relatively harmless spells, including a leg-locker, before trying something more dangerous. The blasting hex bounced off, as well.

“I’m not about to test Unforgivables out,” he said as he walked over to Renato. “And I’m not even sure I could cast them. Hopefully I will never be in a position to find out if they get redirected. If they do, well—as you said, not the kind of defense that works well around allies.”

“You up for French tonight?”

“Sure.”

A week later he got a text message from Daisuke regarding a Vongola job, so he arranged a meeting at a park some distance away. Antonio actually flew out from Italy to deliver the Sky Flame-sealed packet. ‘Ah, seems that Daisuke imparted some specifications,’ he thought after opening the envelope and sliding out the contents. ‘This is similar to what he gives me to look over. So let’s see. Fugitive from Italy, made the mistake of taking out a Vongola member and then fleeing here.’ He flipped to the next page and noted that a relatively clean hit was preferred, then read through the remainder. ‘I wonder if I can seal stuff with flames the way the Vongola Nono can.’ “Consider it done.”

Antonio nodded. “I’ll keep an eye on the news, but if you would, shoot me a quick text afterward?”

He nodded.

The target had flown into Narita, and had a bolt hole in Tokyo, but could potentially be anywhere in the country. ‘Another test?’ he wondered. As soon as he was out of sight he apparated to the clearing and used a locating spell. ‘East-northeast-ish. Probably still in Tokyo, then.’ A glance at his watch told him he had hours yet before his usual time to retire, so he disillusioned himself and apparated to the magical enclave there, then cast another locater.

Two hours later he had tracked the man down, but he was inside, and if he wanted to place a tracker on the man… He sighed and settled in for a long wait. It was another two hours before he got his chance, when a delivery person arrived with an order. Hisui planted a tracker and left, then apparated home.

He returned the next evening and was annoyed to find the man still tucked away in his apartment. ‘And he’s paranoid enough to not have any windows uncovered.’ His target emerged at around two o’clock. ‘For a walk?’ he thought in disbelief. He materialized his senbon and waited, then took him out with the usual pattern. After a quick text message consisting entirely of “Done” he apparated home and crashed.

Renato got another job with those six people and that nagging feeling intensified again.

“I don’t like this,” he said unhappily. “This is making me really uneasy. Again.”

Renato’s expression slid into a faint frown. “What are you talking about?” he asked, flicking the ashes off his cigarette.

“You said something, back in Italy. You were the one to notice it and point it out. That morning, before Big Evil attacked, I was restless and uneasy. When you told me about that job you took recently, the same thing happened, and now it’s happening again.”

To his credit, Renato looked as though he was trying to understand; and failing. “But nothing untoward happened.”

“If you say so. Why does it take seven of you? I don’t want any details, because details belong to the person or people giving and doing the job, but what could you possibly be doing that takes so many people, working as a team? Something is wrong with this picture.”

“I—” The alarm on Renato’s phone went off and he quickly pulled it out so he could silence it. “Unfortunately, I have to go. I’ll be back.”

Hisui was treated to a lingering kiss before Renato departed, and was left feeling a decided sense of unhappiness. “My sense of timing sucks. I should have said something earlier.”

Yori meowed his agreement.

“I didn’t think he’d blow me off.”

Yori made a disagreeable sound.

“Fine. I’m exaggerating. He didn’t even say how long he’d be gone for, though. Damn it. I guess since my evening is shot to hell I can work on trying to power runes with flames instead of magic.”

It was a fortnight before Renato showed up again, smiling happily and looking … confident and flushed with success.

‘It’s like it went straight out of his head,’ he thought. ‘But I don’t have anything to go on but a feeling, and it’s not like I’ve ever been all that good with those.’

Renato secured the door and met him halfway, pulling him into a deep, somewhat needy kiss of greeting. Hisui realized he was being sneakily edged toward the bedroom, and decided to go with it. It had been too long.

Mid-October, on a Sunday, Renato showed up with a cold dinner from an Italian restaurant, and a tablecloth, which he flipped over the kitchen table before unpacking his bounty of food.

“What’s the occasion?” he asked, knowing something was up.

“My birthday,” Renato replied, “and I didn’t feel like going out, so I got this to go.”

He blinked and gathered up some cutlery. “Why didn’t you mention this before now?” he asked, then went to get a bottle of wine. Renato had gotten tired of there never being any alcohol handy and had brought over a selection.

Renato finished plating the food and looked up. “I didn’t want you to make a fuss, or buy anything.”

Hisui scowled. “Saying so would have sufficed. You didn’t have to be all sneaky about it.”

Renato leered at him and took a seat. “There’s only one gift I want from you, tesoro. Tonight, anyway.”

A week later a quiet little birth announcement arrived in the morning mail. Oddly enough, one Sawada Tsunayoshi had been born the day after Renato’s birthday. “At least I know—” He paused. “No, I assume that everything is all right. I somehow doubt that Sawada-san would have sent this if something had happened to Nana-chan. I get the feeling he’d skip right over that entry in her address book.”

He set the card at the end of the counter next to the cat statue that persisted and set about making bentos for lunch. He was feeling uneasy again and dreaded, to a degree, their session at the clearing. Renato showed up at ten o’clock and pinned him against the wall for a lingering kiss of greeting, then grabbed the bento stack. Hisui apparated them and decided, for a change of pace, to return to working on his aim.

“Impressive,” Renato said, eyeing the target. “I’m tempted to bring in a sniper rifle for you to try, though we’d have to find an appropriate position. Working with a sight is a bit different.”

“Why do I have this feeling that one of the walls in your apartment secretly opens up to display an entire armory?” he said dryly.

Renato pursed his lips briefly. “How’d you guess?”

He sighed. “Let me think. Because no matter how fond you are of that gun, I can’t see you using only that? Though I would expect you to stick with proper guns and not something like a missile launcher.”

“If I’m not the one doing the aiming I consider it a cheat,” Renato replied.

He moved back to the next line scuffed in the dirt and took aim again. If he could get accuracy down, he could switch to speed, but he knew it would never be his weapon of choice. As he continued to shoot he considered the issue of that last Vongola hit and how to, in the future, get inside an apartment when he could not see a lock to manipulate. Perhaps he could bring in a frame of sorts? Something large enough to place locks and deadbolts into, so he could sit on the opposite side and work at opening them without being able to see them. It was similar to Renato’s idea of planting a materialized object in a target’s home and coming back to it later to use as a weapon. There were not always windows he could see the locks on, and even some windows were treated with a reflective coating which obscured the mechanisms.

Hisui had just gotten up after their lunch to re-start practice when Renato said, “Got another job.” He sounded entirely too happy about it, and Hisui’s feelings of uneasiness did some painful mountain climbing up his spine.

He checked his position and fired; the bullet winged the edge of the target. “That’s right, our conversation about this was cut off before.”

“It’s a bit odd,” Renato said, “but I still don’t see where—”

“Don’t see?” he interrupted, firing again. “What takes seven people? Are you guys taking on entire famiglie or something to require that kind of manpower? Because I haven’t heard anything about an operation of that scale. I’ve got ants in my fucking spinal cord and you’re sitting there smiling at me like it’s a walk in the park. If someone out there is gathering seven incredibly-skilled hitmen, why was I not included? We’ve done team work before and you said yourself I’m on par with you.”

“I never thought I’d see you express jealousy over a job,” Renato remarked.

He lowered the gun and turned to look at his lover, a scowl erupting. “Jealousy? Really?”

“Look, it’s a group of Flames of the Sky users. Earth doesn’t exactly fit into that.”

“So you’re saying members of the Varia? Because they’re supposedly the best out there.” He turned back and took aim. His increasing agitation was making that difficult, but a tiny part of him acknowledged it was good for practice purposes. He fired and winged the edge again.

“Well, no,” Renato admitted. “He said the strongest seven.”

“The client.”

“Yes. There’s an amazing reward waiting if we complete the series. The first two jobs were super cool, Hisui! And I’m meeting some interesting people.”

He let his lover ramble on for a bit, his mood steadily darkening, before saying, “Again, you’re the one who pointed it out in the first place.”

“So you’re prescient? Can you predict what lottery numbers I should play?” Renato joked.

Something snapped in his head, like brittle twigs being stepped on by an uncaring foot. The gun hit the ground as he turned slowly. A stream of viscous fire erupted from his hand, headed straight at Renato, whose eyes bugged out; a split second later he dove to the side, rolling and coming up in a half-kneeling position. A tree behind his lover’s original position burst into flames. Hisui’s focus shifted to follow the movement and fire erupted again; another tree went up. “Don’t mock my feelings, Sinclair,” he snarled.

“Shit. You—” Renato dashed off to a new position. “You manifested fire?”

“What’s your fucking point, Sinclair?” he demanded in a growl, turning to correct his aim and sending out another stream of fire. “I’m trying to kill you and you’re worried about the method!?”

“No!” Renato did another dodge roll and popped up again near a non-burning tree. “Hisui! You’re—you’re angry enough at me to manifest fire? Shit. I—I need to rethink these jobs.”

The fire coating his hand went out as that registered in his brain. Right about then he realized that several trees were burning merrily and the flames were spreading. “Kami-sama,” he muttered, and flung out his hands to spray water around. Once the fires were out he glanced around and spotted Renato. He was flat on his back and staring up at the sky, a frown drawing his brows down. He sat down beside him and waited.

Had it been a magical thing, or part of his secondary flames? Renato had theorized that fury might trigger it. He paged back through his memory regarding spells and came up with fiendfyre. But there had been no creature shapes and he had put it out easily. It hadn’t been a firestorm. Incendio? He got back up and moved away from his lover, and took aim at one of the wet trees, then cast.

‘No, that’s not it,’ he thought, then sprayed the tree with more water. ‘Doesn’t look at all alike. They were more like thinned down lava? And I don’t recall feeling any actual magic.’ His brow furrowed unhappily as he mentally dropped back to Renato’s facetious comment. Flames poured out of his hand again and tried to ignite the tree. ‘They really are kind of like lava,’ he observed, eyeing them avidly. The sustained outpouring evaporated the water and set the tree aflame again.

They cut off abruptly when he felt himself being enfolded in a hug from behind.

“I’m sorry,” Renato whispered in his ear. “You’re right. I’m the one who noticed it first, and in my excitement I blew it off. I didn’t listen to what you were trying to tell me. There’s something odd about all of this. You are one of the best. If that was all the client was really after you’d have been included. There shouldn’t be any reason to limit it to only certain flames. You’ve felt uneasy ever since the first one. Even if it’s not obvious yet what’s going on, I should not be ignoring that.”

He slowly relaxed as Renato spoke, sending out a spray of water before his arm lowered.

“That you can get so angry about it—well. That means I really fucked up.”

“I don’t know what it means,” he said quietly. “I just know how it makes me feel.”

“And it’s telling you to tell me to run screaming in the opposite direction.”

“Basically. Nothing straight-up fatal. If that were the case I expect something different would have gone down in Genoa.”

Renato shuffled him around in his arms so they could face each other. “But people still got hurt. Did you ever get like this before? Keeping your friend safe, for example?”

His gaze drifted off to the side. “…Looking back, it all seems so coincidental. I was generally in a position to be able to drive away anyone looking to prey on her.”

“Anyone else?”

He made a face. “Small children? Grannies?” He shrugged.

Renato’s lips pursed. He glanced around, then led Hisui over to the still intact seating and sat down, pulling Hisui down to straddle his knees so they could still face each other. “Generalized, but more accurate and intense if you actually give a damn about the person.”

“Ano… I guess … yes.”

Renato kissed him, the corner of his mouth, then said, “All right. I’ll turn it down. I’ll stop. Just please, don’t try to incinerate me again if I don’t listen?”

He exhaled slowly. “Should I stab you instead? I can have a senbon with your name on it ready at a moment’s notice, Ren-koi.”

Renato smiled briefly. “Stabbing is much better. How about we head back for now?”

“So no problems turning down that job?” he asked a week later.

He was given a confused look in response. “What job? What are you talking about?”

He blinked slowly. “Do you remember a week ago? In the clearing?”

“Yes, you made a breakthrough in manifes—huh. Something is wrong. I’m missing something. What am I missing?”

He blinked again at the intense look on Renato’s face. Someone had fucked with his lover’s memories? “You took on two jobs for some unnamed client, with six other people, all of the Flames of the Sky. It made me really uneasy. When you mentioned the third job—”

“Oh!” Renato gnawed on his index finger knuckle. “I can’t remember any of the details. Someone messed with my head. But you’re okay?”

He nodded and repeated back verbatim every conversation they had had regarding those jobs.

“I … wish I could remember. Who it was.”

“If they were willing and able to screw with your memories, we should be pleased they didn’t just kill you for backing out. They might think they can ensnare you again later on. Maybe you should just let it lie and not take any jobs that come from an unknown source in the future?” he suggested.

Renato nodded, still looking disturbed.

Nana sent him an invitation for the winter break, and all but begged him to bring along his friend. It was a bit early to show off her newborn, but she was obviously trying to accommodate his schedule. Renato was trying to read it and not being very subtle about it, so he sighed and handed it over.

“Oo,” Renato uttered, “meeting the family. You want to say yes, but you’re worried that Sawada will be present.”

“Of course.”

“It’s up to you, tesoro, but I’m kinda thinking that Sawada is not going to rip away his wife’s innocent view of you. He’s also Vongola, so at some point…”

“If you want to go, you’ll need to bring the usual gift.”

“Diapers?”

He rolled his eyes. “No, ¥30,000, in an appropriate card. To be fair, I don’t have a clue how it works in other countries.”

“Money, huh? I suppose that way the parents can purchase whatever they need, rather than getting six bassinets and a half dozen prams. Same thing for weddings?”

He nodded. “It’s different depending on who it’s coming from, but yes, though some people go for a more Western approach.”

“I would love to meet this friend of yours,” Renato declared. “Count me in.”