Grazhir :: Crossover :: Hisui :: 05

05: 2002

They arrived by apparation and went to the hotel to check in and get settled. “So, this is where you come from,” Renato commented, gazing out the window of their suite. “Charming little place. You thinking of buying property here?”

“Yes.”

Renato focused on him, head tilted slightly. “ ‘Come live with me and be my love, and we will all the pleasures prove—if these delights thy mind may move, then live with me and be my love.’ ”

His brow went up. “Sure.”

“Magnifico!” Renato swooped in to give him a passionate kiss. “I’ll check into it.”

The door at the Sawada home was opened by Nana’s mother. “Fukushima-san,” he greeted with a bow, “I am pleased to see you.” He made introductions and she, after accepting their cards, ushered them off into the living room.

Sawada’s eyes went fractionally wide on seeing Renato. A moment later he was right in front of them, smiling broadly. “Wonderful to see you again,” he claimed heartily, then shifted the smile over to Renato, who smiled back and introduced himself. “Either of you like a drink?”

He sighed faintly. “A soft drink, please.”

“Whatever you have handy,” Renato said with a shrug.

Sawada disappeared and was back quickly, offering up cans, and then cracked his beer open. “So, this is the mysterious friend.”

‘The subtlety is just killing me,’ he thought. “Yes. We’ve known each other for about a year now.”

“And what an interesting year it’s been,” Renato said, cracking his soda open and taking a sip. “I’d ask if we could smoke, but I’m not sure you’d want that with a newborn in the house.”

“Outside is fine,” Sawada replied, then gestured toward the sliding glass doors at the back of the room.

Renato lit up after they had exited the house and offered the cigarette to Hisui, who accepted and took a drag, then Renato lit one for himself. “You?” he asked, tapping the pack.

Sawada shook his head. “Thank you, no.”

“Come in when you’re done with those,” Nana called from the door. “I have someone I want you to meet!”

Hisui smiled at her and nodded.

“Well, I lost a bet,” Renato said with a regretful shake of his head. “You reacted visibly.”

Sawada looked at each of them, a vague shade of suspicion in his eyes, then smiled broadly. “I’ll have to work on that.”

Hisui smoked and took sips of his soda, wondering how long they could keep up the fencing. The pauses between responses were a little too long to be anything but awkward.

“Construction, eh?”

“It’s a variable profession, but lucrative, and I’m fairly high up,” Sawada replied. “You?”

“Oh, I’ve mostly been sticking to Japan of late. Plenty to be done. Done a few ‘lectures’ elsewhere, though, as the opportunity arises.”

“What brought you to Japan in the first place?”

Renato smiled charmingly. “I came on holiday, but heard some super cool ghost stories and stuck around to check them out.”

Hisui stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray on the table and sighed, then looked straight at Sawada. “Yeah, he found Phantom,” he said with a lilt of his brow, then retreated inside after a subtle gesture to strip away the scent. Nana beamed at him and hurried him over to a little carrier that held a sleepy infant. He set his drink on the table and examined the child. “He takes after you.”

“He does, doesn’t he,” she said happily. “But you never know, he might end up with hair like his daddy’s.”

Nana’s mother disagreed. “I think he’ll be just like you in looks. We can only hope he makes a friend like Hisui-kun.”

His brow went up at that. He hoped that was a compliment and not a prediction about the amount of bullying she expected the child to deal with growing up.

Nana gave him a look. “And you brought your friend with you,” she said, her hands coming up to clasp under her chin. “I’m so happy. I can finally meet him.”

“Don’t make a big deal out of it. He already has an ego the size of China. You don’t need to make it worse.”

“What was that, tesoro?” Renato said from behind him.

“Oh my,” Nana said in bemusement. “You never said your friend was foreign.”

“Nana-chan, my mysterious friend, Sinclair Renato. Ren-kun, Sawada Nana, my best friend.”

Renato smiled charmingly and inclined his head in lieu of a bow, then peered into the carrier. “And who is this adorable little fellow?”

Nana beamed. “Tsunayoshi!”

The baby chose that moment to wake up and start squalling something fierce. “Oh my,” Nana said. “Let me get him taken care of.” She carefully extracted him and hustled off, her mother in tow.

Hisui reclaimed his drink and nodded at the doors again. They ended up back at the outside table and he lit up again. It helped what with having to be around Sawada and having essentially admitted to his alter ego.

Sawada gave him a penetrating look. “How long?”

“Since I was fourteen, but I was keeping my best friend safe for long before that. She has no idea,” he said, tilting his head at the house.

Sawada nodded. “You two have been doing jobs for Vongola lately. Huh. No one knew who Phantom really was.”

“Now you do,” he replied. “He’s been under your nose this whole time, ever since you decided to have dinner in a certain restaurant. The only reason I said anything is because I have some idea who you are in the Vongola, and I don’t see you selling that information to the highest bidder.”

Sawada shook his head, then said, “Well. That helps, actually. Nono was getting real curious about you. Sinclair-san here is a lot easier to keep an eye on.”

“Curious?”

“Yes. I’m sure you two have heard about the disturbance a bit back. Since then he’s been keeping an eye out for the odd freelancer. Everyone said you were one of the best, but Biforcuto is incredibly close-mouthed on the whole issue.”

“As they should be,” he said.

“Oh, I agree. You won’t hear me dispute something like that. Just, expect more work to come your way, if you’re in a position to take it. I know you still have university to contend with. But it would mean getting things done over here without having to send people every time. Cuts down on the overall expense.”

‘How pragmatic.’ He nodded.

Sawada looked back at Renato and grinned; it was the first natural smile Hisui had seen on the man. “You’re pretty damn good if you could track down a ghost.”

Renato shrugged deprecatingly. “I do what I can.”

“Kami-sama. Modesty?” he muttered. “The world must be ending.”

“Tesoro! You wound me,” Renato said with mock despair.

“Not lately. But like I said, I have a senbon with your name on it if necessary,” he replied, smiling innocently. After taking in the expression on Sawada’s face he said, “My best kept secret, that I have an actual personality.”

Sawada stared at him, then grinned.

After they left they stopped by a real estate agent to browse listings. He wondered if he should just invite Renato to share his apartment if they were going to buy a house together. ‘I’ll let him bring it up. He’s bound to push again.’ There were a few larger houses on the outskirts of town and his lover got information on those, then talked to the agent about setting up appointments for viewing, and handed over his phone number for when they came through.

Hisui showed Renato around town and even walked past the houses they had information for. All of them looked fairly standard from the outside, though there were differences in the interior layouts according to the papers his lover had stashed away. One had a bit more actual land involved and he leaned toward that one, but as he said, “Any of them would work. It’s all a variation on theme.”

Renato nodded. “If you’re not available I can poke around on my own, verify their condition.”

“Even if there are some issues, they can be fixed,” he said with a sidelong look. “As for protection, well, owning a place would allow me greater freedoms, and not have to rely on something that requires me to be present so often to power it. Speaking of which, Big Evil is back at it.”

“How is he doing that?”

He shrugged. “Something I’ve never come across, obviously. But I sincerely doubt you can find it at the local book shop, whatever he’s done. I keep expecting to hear that the district in Genoa has been razed to the ground in retaliation for the humiliation of being defeated.”

“Wouldn’t they have their own version of an underground?” Renato asked.

“In theory.” He hummed thoughtfully. “Whatever the guy did, it made him look less than human. His face reminded me of a wax statue left in a hot room for too long. Knowing how to counter it would be only as useful as it is prevalent. I imagine the reports from Genoa have made it to Britain, to that group over there.”

“True, though it remains to be seen if they can do anything with the information.” Renato kicked a stray stone off to the side. “Not really our problem, I suppose.” His phone rang, so he flipped it open and said, “Yeah… Yes… We’ll meet you there… Right.” He flipped it shut and tucked it away. “Time to backtrack. The house with the most land is available to tour.”

He nodded and turned around. The exterior of the house was in fine shape. There were a few spots that would need a little help, but by and large it seemed sound, and the land itself was usable. Inside was a fairly standard layout for a home, but it had larger rooms and more of them, which meant that Renato would have room for an armory, and they would have room for guests, should it be necessary. He leaned in to whisper in his lover’s ear, “Keep the agent distracted. I want to check a few things with magic.”

Renato nodded and went off to be excessively charming, so Hisui roamed around flicking spells everywhere looking for structural damage, vermin, and other nastiness. There were a few minor issues, but nothing he would have trouble dealing with. He returned to Renato and nodded. “It’s fine,” he said quietly.

“We love it!” Renato told the agent. “Let’s go talk money.”

It took a couple of weeks for everything to be settled and the transaction to be complete, but when it was, and it was theirs, Hisui apparated them there again and started figuring out what he would need in the way of warding materials. No sense paying some company to protect the place electronically when he could embed ward stones that drew off natural energy after they had been initially powered up. He also started tossing out spells to correct the issues he had found previously.

“So these wards… You mentioned vermin.”

He paused. “Yes. You’re worried about your insects. I’m not planning to block them out, but I expect that if we get an infestation of something horrible, you’ll take care of it, or prevent it from happening in the first place. However, if we’re not going to be here for any length of time, then I will for that time. Sound fair?”

Renato nodded. “Sounds fair.” Then he smiled slyly. “Does this mean I can share the apartment with you, too?”

“I was wondering when that would come up.”

“Aw, you’ve been thinking about it,” Renato said and edged closer, a gleam in his eyes.

He sighed. “Yes, Ren-koi.”

“Yes, you’ve been thinking about it, or yes, I can move in?” Renato asked, getting close enough to lean in and run his tongue up the side of Hisui’s neck.

“Yes.”

Renato pulled back. “Wait, is that an inclusive or exclusive operation?”

His mouth twitched. “You’re the mathematician.”

Renato thumbed his lower lip and frowned. “Ah. We’re a couple, so it’s inclusive, so that was a yes to both. Perfect!”

He chuckled and reached out to yank his lover into a kiss, then pushed him away. “Let me work.”

He was sketching on a duplicate of the floor plans when his phone vibrated, causing his hand to twitch. ‘Good thing I’m only using a pencil,’ he thought as he got his phone out and checked it. “Antonio has a job for me,” he informed his lover as he sent back an acceptance. “Time to return, I guess.” He grabbed the plans and tucked them away, then offered his arm. Moments later they were back in the Kyoto apartment. “I have an hour before I have to meet him. How much do you want to put in the house? I mean—” He frowned.

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t start outfitting the place in full, but unless you’re dreaming of entirely new things for the kitchen, there’s no point in—well, unless we chose to use the place during your breaks, in which case I suppose we would.”

He nodded. “Might as well do the whole thing, then. It’s not like we don’t have the funds. But I want to get the wards in place first, so that some thug doesn’t cruise on in and start hauling things away.”

Renato hummed thoughtfully. “All right. It’s still early, so I’m going to go poke around some shops. You want me to bring back dinner?”

“Please. Or we can just order once we’re both back and have it delivered. Whichever.”

A short time later he was back in that park, reading a book up in the branches of the tree. When Antonio arrived he dropped down to the ground and took a seat at the table there. Antonio smiled and joined him.

“I’m a little surprised to see you again, but at the same time not,” Hisui remarked.

“I’ve been reassigned over here. It was decided that giving another person knowledge of who you are was unwise. I have a secure connection to the boss, so if a job needs doing over here, I get the call, and then I can bring the details to you or your friend, depending.”

He nodded. That was … thoughtful … of the Vongola Nono. It may have had something to do with Sawada, too. “What’s the job?”

Antonio opened his case and retrieved a folder, then slid it over. “Rogue agent.”

‘This is new,’ he thought, and started reading. The target was a lower-level Vongola, not bloodline, who had been caught trying to work his way up the ladder by the brilliant shortcut of assassinating his fellows. ‘Because that usually goes over so well with the higher ups.’ The target had fled once he got wind that his activities had been discovered. On previous visits to Japan he was known to spend time in Sendai, but the Vongola had no solid proof of where he presently was in the country, only that he had been spotted coming in through Narita.

‘Well, finding him won’t be a problem, but…’ He propped his head against his left fist. ‘I think I should ask Renato a few questions before I start. This just wants his death, but for proof? I should probably leave enough of him to be identified. Perhaps Renato would have some advice for that, too.’ He nodded. “Yeah. I’ll take care of it,” he said, closing the folder and pushing it back. “It’ll take some time to track him down, but he’s as good as dead.”

Antonio nodded and tucked the folder away. “Send me a text,” he requested, then departed.

Hisui took off to a private spot and apparated home. Renato was not yet back so he cast a locater with the target’s face and information in mind. ‘West-ish? Huh. He’s not even close to where they thought he might be.’ He sent off a quick text to Renato to let him know he was home, then sat back to contemplate. He could easily enough kill the target with senbon and leave behind the face and fingerprints, or he could make him bleed out by nipping off his legs, or he could even shoot the guy. It depended a lot on how the guy was living.

Renato showed up some time later with Chinese, so Hisui asked his questions in between mouthfuls, the foremost being, “How long would it normally take you to track someone down using your usual methods, if you didn’t know where in Japan they were?”

Renato mulled that over. “As much as a month, but closer to two weeks. It depends in part on the season and what I have available for insects or creatures. If I know what names they use as aliases I can slip into branch offices and poke around in the computer records, try to see where any cards are being used. If you want me to teach you how to do that kind of thing I’d be happy to. But for doing it the magical way, I’d say run him down, plant a tracker on him, and use that time to figure out a strategy.”

He nodded. “I may take you up on that. It wouldn’t be a bad thing at all to know. Any suggestions as to where to leave the corpse so that it’d be reported correctly?”

Renato eyed him curiously. “You don’t usually worry about that. Huh. You could always hang the target off a lamppost where the police are sure to find him. Or, if you want the client or intermediary to, maybe a sheltered spot on a rooftop you could pass along the location of.”

‘So, a fortnight. I can spend time in the evenings keeping an eye on the fellow, seeing where his bolt hole is, making a plan. If nothing else it’s an interesting challenge. I’m getting more complicated hits, which is a double-edged sword, but still…’

He found the target the next day after classes and planted a tracker, then started stalking him. He had sent a text to Renato that he would be working, so he had plenty of time to watch and think. His target eventually ended up at an apartment building and his tracker placed him on the tenth floor. He could trick his way in through the front—not an option he cared for—or come at him from the outside, though that depended on what sort of windows were available. Or, he could do it while the fellow was wandering, though during that day all he had done was have dinner and window shop.

That reminded him that it would not be a bad idea to visit Tokyo’s magical district and poke around for some kind of seedy underworld. It might be pointless, but it also might be useful at some time in the future. He flew up to pinpoint the target’s windows and noted that the reflective coating could almost be seen through close up. It was an option, given that. Or, he could go with something Renato had suggested ages ago. His cat statue was still sitting there on the counter.

The next night he was back with his binoculars handy, trying to get glimpses of the interior of the apartment. Unfortunately, from what little he could see, it was mostly off-white and cream, so trying to tuck some senbon into place would be difficult. Renato’s idea would have to wait for some other, more opportune target. He returned daily to refresh the tracker, and used the information from it to overlay a pattern of movement on a mental map.

In the meantime Renato was teaching him what he knew about information mining and sneaking into places they should not have access to. Daisuke also had another job for him, but that was taken care of in just a couple of days. Eventually he felt enough time had passed and went after the Vongola target. As the man was re-entering his bolt hole Hisui sent six senbon at the back of his neck, to shatter the vertebrae there and transect the spinal cord. The target jerked forward and fell into the entryway, and Hisui reached out to snag the man’s keys.

When he was certain the man was dead he again reached out, to close the door and use the keys to lock it. The keys were then brought over to be dropped temporarily into an obsidian box. Back at his own home he sent Antonio a text, inviting him to a meeting at the park. They met up the next afternoon, at that same tree.

“Having problems?” Antonio asked.

He shook his head. “I debated on how best to deliver,” he said, pushing over the box. “The target is dead. These are the keys to the apartment he was using. You’ll find him just inside the door.”

Antonio blinked and took the keys, staring at them for a moment. “Where?”

“Hamada,” he replied, then waited for Antonio to get out a notebook to rattle off the exact address.

“All right,” Antonio said with a pleased nod. “I’ll check it out and shoot you a quick text to let you know the transfer’s gone through.”

Life continued on with classes, weekends spent at the house, Renato’s impromptu lessons, and the occasional job being handled. Then Renato got a message in July from Antonio and went off to meet him. About a half hour later a text came in on his phone, Renato requesting that he join them. He furrowed his brow in confusion and set off to meet them.

He took in the oddly amused look Renato had on his face as he took a seat, and arched a brow at the handler.

“I don’t know,” Antonio said. “I showed him the job and he paused, then started laughing and said he wanted a consult.” He pushed the folder over.

He snorted when he scanned the first page. The target was Fenrir Greyback, werewolf and notorious child killer. They got news of him even in Japan. “Where in hell did this come from?” he muttered.

Antonio’s eyes cut off to the side.

“Not who,” he clarified. “What originating country?”

“The client is in Italy, but has strong ties to Britain.”

He propped his head against his fist as he flipped through the remainder of the material, then he exchanged a look with Renato. “There are potentially serious complications involved in this job,” he finally said to Antonio. “This guy—he’s special.”

Renato snorted in amusement.

“Special?”

He looked at Renato again, who shrugged. ‘Shit. I’m not a part of the magical community, not really, but I try to respect their statute.’ “Special as in special powers. He also—he has a highly infectious disease. There’s something like Omertà. Not exactly the same, but similar enough. They must be desperate to have called on the Vongola.”

Antonio’s expression was a study in confusion. He snapped out of it a few seconds later and said, “Okay, let me talk to the boss. I’ll get back to you two.” He grabbed the folder and tucked it away, then strode off.

As soon as they were in the clear Hisui apparated them back to the apartment. “The hell? What is the magical world doing soliciting help from the mafia?”

Renato chuckled. “No way in hell was I going to accept that as it was.”

“That guy gives mad dog Englishmen a whole new meaning.”

“You know, I’ve known you for quite a while now, and I still don’t know your birthday,” Renato commented, giving him a quizzical look.

“Ano…” He shrugged. “I have two of them. My real one and the one the orphanage decided on based on what the doctors said about my age. I’m surprised you haven’t just poked around in my records at the university.”

Renato shook his head. “You being there gave me an idea of your age, but the exact day wasn’t something I cared about at the time.”

“August, the twenty-first,” he said, “but the real one is earlier.”

“Which one do you care about?”

He snorted. “Neither, really, but August, I suppose, since that’s considered official. It’s not as though I bother with any of it.”

Renato nodded slowly, thoughtfully, then changed the subject.

Two weeks later they both got a text from Antonio, asking for a meeting. He apparated them back to the apartment, then they walked to the park and took a seat. They talked quietly until Hisui’s gravitational net signaled a live one incoming, at which point he looked up in that direction. Antonio appeared moments later and took a seat.

“Well. I spoke with the boss,” Antonio said. “They did some digging on the client. I don’t know all the finer details for the outcome, but—I’ve been asked to request that you two come to the Vongola base to speak directly with the Vongola Nono.”

His brow shot up.

“If you agree, he will send his private jet to transport you.”

He looked at Renato, read the minute twitches in his facial features, then focused on Antonio again. “Just to point out, I am unable to travel out of the country until the third of August at the earliest. If that is acceptable…”

“All right. I’ll let him know. I’ll be in touch.”

*

The mansion was huge. Antonio played escort the entire trip from Japan, but he was joined by three others once they entered. There were rooms to either side and the entrance hall was straightforward in design, but past that point the corridors were more like a maze. Hisui built up a mental map along the way, but, depending on what Antonio might have imparted to the Nono, suspected they knew he would not be disoriented by that application of defense.

After twenty minutes of walking they arrived at a set of double doors. One of the escorts knocked, and the door was opened seconds later. Sawada stepped into view, grinned, and gestured them inside. The room itself was large and strangely bare.

‘He looks about sixty, perhaps? Maybe a bit younger,’ he thought, eyeing the Vongola Nono, who was seated on a slightly elevated throne-like chair with three men of varying ages arrayed behind him. Sawada led them to a set of chairs in a semi-circle before the Nono and gestured again. Hisui bowed before taking one.

Once everyone was seated the Vongola Nono said, “Thank you for coming. After Antonio alerted me to the peculiar circumstances surrounding the job we did some digging, and it has come to my attention that there is another world out there.” He paused significantly. “I must assume, then, that the two of you are aware of this world of magic.”

Renato lifted his chin and, after he received a nod, said, “Were you made aware of the term squib, sir?”

“Nono or Kyudaime is fine. And yes.”

“My mother was a squib, and before she died she passed on certain information to me. I have … access … to the newspapers of that world. When I saw the target’s name I knew exactly who it was—or rather, what he is.”

Nono nodded and shifted his gaze to Hisui.

He sighed. “I was born in that world.”

Nono’s brow crinkled. “Are you a squib, then?”

He sighed again. “No. I am fully magical, though I never attended one of their schools. The magical world teaches indolence and sloth, so I prefer not to rely too heavily on what abilities I figured out how to use. I regularly buy papers so I can keep an eye on their doings, in the event that they might spill over into the … mundane world.”

Nono nodded thoughtfully. “Intriguing. Please explain to me your knowledge of the target and the circumstances surrounding him.”

Hisui looked over at Renato long enough to get an opinion from his expression, then said, “Greyback is a werewolf. One of the worst examples of one I have ever heard of. If the reports are to be believed he delights in terrorizing and eating children, though he seems to have no qualms about going against those older. Those he doesn’t eat he turns, to add to his pack. He prefers children for that, because he has that much more time to indoctrinate them before they become strong enough to potentially challenge him.

“He is allied with that dark lord over there in Britain, though I doubt he is officially a Death Eater. From what I understand Big Evil is prejudiced against other races and half-breeds, but he obviously takes advantage of what Greyback is capable of. He is magical, which means it’s entirely possible that finding him may present a problem, depending on what protections he employs. Being a werewolf means he has exceptional senses, so getting into a position to make the hit… Long range is best, obviously. Weres also heal with amazing speed and can take a lot of damage. I was … shocked … to hear that a hit was taken out on him. Either the magicals are too scared of him to do it themselves, or something else is at work.”

When it became apparent that he had wound down, Nono nodded again. “Do you have any personal experience either with the target or with these … Death Eaters?”

“Ren-kun and I had the misfortune to run into some in Genoa last summer, at the magical shopping area there. I found the incursion to be impolite, so I went outside and killed many of them, though two got away. Ren-kun took out many himself, from the window. The leader, Big Evil, disintegrated, but we have since learned that he is back, somehow. It is one of the reasons why neither of us is particularly interested in going anywhere near Britain, or even France. I have not heard that his people have returned to Italy, though, nor seen anything to make me believe that they have been preying on the mundane population.”

“You do not use his name?”

He shook his head. “It is said that there is a Taboo placed on his…” He paused, eyeing the ceiling for a moment. “His name must be fake, and I sincerely doubt he is a lord. Furaito no Shi is … pathetic, but explanatory. The Taboo is a magical effect, like a far-reaching spider’s web; it alerts someone to the use of that name. He has people called Snatchers who arrive in response, to capture or kill. I do not know the geographical limits, so I prefer to simply call him Big Evil.”

He was unhappy, to say the least, that one of his secrets was out, because if nothing else, it highlighted that he probably could have been taking out certain targets much faster than he had. Then again, he had said he preferred not to rely too much on magic, so…

Nono looked down and steepled his hands in front of himself, bracing his elbows on the arms of his chair. After several minutes he said, “Do you know if these Death Eaters are marked in any way?”

“Yes. It is the same as the mark they leave in the sky, a snake coming out of the mouth of a skull.”

Another few minutes passed before Nono asked, “Do these people require some kind of tool to work their magic?”

“Almost all of them, yes. They are taught to rely on them from the start. Very few ever achieve any proficiency without a wand, most believing it is impossible. Though, it is also possible that it requires someone very strong to manage it. I don’t spend normally more than an hour or so in any of the shopping areas, once a month at most, so the odds of me witnessing it at any real scale are negligible.”

“So you are powerful.”

He blinked. “I never really thought about it before. My magic manifested at around the same time as my flames, so I treated them the same.”

Another few minutes of silence passed. Then, “I find myself to be annoyed. I intend to bring in the petitioner. Will you two make yourselves available for that talk?”

The two exchanged a look. “Yes,” Renato said, “we will.”

Nono finally looked up, and at Sawada. “Please escort our friends to one of the guest houses. Antonio, your usual room will be fine for the time being.”

He rose when Sawada did, bowed, then followed the man out. It was not until they were actually at the guest house that Sawada grinned at him and said, “You’re just full of surprises.”

He sighed. “It was not something I had ever intended to share, because I’m unfond of magicals and don’t like to be associated with them, but it seemed what knowledge I have of these people was necessary. Something is … weird … about all this. Not being forthcoming would be damaging, I expect.”

“Well, I won’t pry. This little place will be fully stocked within the hour, so you’ll be set for your stay. As soon as everything is ready someone will be along to get you. Probably me or Antonio. I am curious about something, though.”

His brow went up.

“I’ve never seen you use your flames and…”

He took in the almost boyish excitement on Sawada’s face and sighed, wondered just how quickly the display would be reported back to Nono, then manifested six senbon and sent them flying around his body, then up to arc back down and stab into the ground. A second later they vanished.

“He once threatened to give me eye surgery with one of those,” Renato commented, a smirk on his face.

Sawada stared at the ground, then looked up. “Obsidian?”

Hisui nodded.

“Isn’t that incredibly fragile? It’s just glass.”

“Naturally formed, yes. But not mine. They were the first thing I ever managed.” He stepped away a bit to scuff a circle in the dirt, then returned to them and manifested a single senbon, then flicked it. It hit dead center, then dissolved. “These were what I used to drive away the idiots who tried to prey on people like Nana-chan. I got plenty of practice. Stupid people don’t usually stop being stupid, after all.”

“Huh. Well, let me give you a quick tour of the place,” Sawada said, then walked over and opened the door.

Several days later Sawada came for them, to lead them back to the same room inside the mansion. Instead of being shown to seats he and Renato were positioned off to the side of Nono’s chair. Seated in one of the lower chairs was a dark-skinned man with exotic good looks, European in nature.

Nono came in from a door at the back, accompanied by his Guardians, and took his seat; his Guardians split again, to more or less encircle the seating. “Zabini,” Nono said. “You have been less than forthcoming in your request, at the risk of the deaths of highly skilled operatives. I will have the truth of the matter from your lips.”

With every word Zabini was becoming less poised and more antsy.

“You did not mention the important detail of your magic at the outset, nor your weapon, the finer details on the target, the risk involved, or the truth behind the request.”

Zabini’s hand twitched, and a split second later Hisui was standing practically on Nono’s lap, having manifested a gravity sphere. Spells from Zabini’s wand ricocheted off to impact harmlessly on the walls and ceiling, and Hisui reached out to yank the wand from the man’s hand, letting it skitter away to fetch up against a wall. A thought saw Zabini jerked upward to hover a couple of meters off the floor.

After a thick silence Nono started speaking, so Hisui turned his head slightly and tilted it to show he was listening, though he never took his eyes off Zabini.

“If you will, please lower him into a chair. My Guardians will see to securing him.”

He nodded and slowly lowered the man down. Nono’s Mist Guardian—he assumed that was who it was, anyway—manifested chains around Zabini, tying him to the chair. He stepped away from Nono and back to his place next to Renato, then reached out to bring the wand to a hover in front of one of the Guardians. As soon as the man took it he released his hold and returned to eyeing Zabini.

Zabini was “encouraged” to speak the whole truth at that point. He was a Death Eater out of necessity. Join or die, essentially. Voldemort had tasked him with the death of Greyback, as the were’s activities were getting out of hand and tainting too many magicals. Zabini agreed, for he had no other real choice, but was in no way willing to do the job personally. Therefore, he had tapped family contacts and arranged for a petition to go to the Vongola to handle it, despite the financial burden to him. He did not care if any of their men died, so long as the job was done. His mentality was “every man for himself”.

He was also persuaded to speak at length on the subject of the Dark Lord, though most of that information was filed away as being a curiosity and not immediately relevant. Voldemort was having serious trouble gaining further followers, even from other countries; other ministries had geared up to respond at a moment’s notice to incursions. And, as Zabini said, “The Order seems to have figured out the Dark Lord’s secret,” which meant he might likely be a problem no longer, soon enough.

Once they had asked every possible question they could think of and had wrung Zabini dry, the man was killed, for having dared to attack Nono.

Hisui furrowed his brow and looked at Sawada, who tilted his head inquiringly. “I do not know if there is any way Big Evil can track his people,” he said quietly, “due to the mark, alive or dead. Perhaps incineration?”

Sawada nodded and went to go speak with Nono. Shortly thereafter Zabini’s body was ashes that were tidily swept into a container to be disposed of.

Nono spent some time deep in thought, then said, “You have my thanks, Nagao. I would pleased if you and Sinclair would join us for dinner this evening.”

He bowed and saw Renato incline his head.

Nono glanced at Sawada, who immediately moved to escort the two out. At the guest house Sawada said, “You have my thanks, as well. I’ll be back in a few hours. Plenty of time for you two to relax a bit.”

Inside Renato pressed him against the wall for a lingering kiss, then said, “Well. I felt a bit useless there. You reacted so quickly.”

He flipped positions so that his lover was against the wall and initiated another kiss. “A childhood of reacting fast. And you are never useless. You know so much more than I do about so many things. What I did was a risk, but you’ve been helping me with it, so at least I was able to ensure none of those spells hit anyone.”

“Mm, true,” Renato said. “That was a damn fool thing for Zabini to do, though. In a room inside a maze of corridors, with ten mafiosi? And he chooses to attack the boss? I wonder why he didn’t just teleport out?”

He shrugged. “Either he was too panicky, didn’t have a place close enough that he could visualize well enough, or he was hoping to use something like the imperius to get his way—to what end, I’m not sure. That we were invited to dinner is interesting.”

Renato grinned. “Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m thinking we’re gold at this point. It absolutely can’t hurt that you protected Nono from an attack, before anyone else even registered what the hell was about to happen. There are times when I’m a little envious of you being an Earth.”

He kissed his lover again. “If you were, we would not have the advantage of your amazing ability to enhance stamina, Ren-koi.”

“…Let’s go test that out.”

“Let’s.”

Dinner was in a room of ornate and sumptuous décor, with a long table of gleaming mahogany and matching chairs with amber silk-covered cushioned seats. Hisui almost felt he should be garbed in a kimono instead of the suit he was wearing. In contrast to the environment, dinner itself was relaxed and informal. Conversation was light and exploratory, with Hisui seated to Nono’s right, with Renato next to him. It was not until they were indulging in afters that Nono brought up the topic of Greyback.

“We are under no obligation to proceed with that contract. However, given that the target does not limit himself to magical persons, it might not be such a bad idea to remove him from play. I am willing to fund this myself, proportionate to the risk.”

Renato made a seemingly random pattern on the table surface, but that Hisui interpreted as an agreement. “We accept,” he said, having recognized the motion as something his lover had taken to doing while thinking and was going to be agreeable.

Nono nodded. “Antonio will be your coordinator, as always.”

Talk turned back to lighter matters for the remainder of the meal, and Sawada escorted them back to the guest house after. “Antonio will be here in the morning to bring you to town,” he said before he departed.

They repaired to the sitting room and lounged on the sofa. “Well, what are your thoughts on execution?” Renato asked.

He took his lover’s hand so he could play with his fingers as he thought. “Weres have exceptional healing abilities. Can you negate that?”

Renato looked over at him strangely. “I have no idea, but that’s a very interesting thought.”

“All right. I don’t want to be anywhere he could reach us, so that means either you fill him full of explosive rounds from a distance faster than he can heal, or we go with an old favorite, and I explode his sorry hide.”

“What if he’s with his pack?”

“Good question. They aren’t part of the contract, but… Odds are, anyone he’s indoctrinated is going to potentially be as much of a threat, and they’d have the idea that increasing their numbers is good.”

“Maybe in a situation like that you can handle Greyback while I start plugging the underlings. We can clean up together.”

He nodded and progressed to giving Renato a hand massage, smiling briefly when his lover sighed in pleasure. “But if he’s alone, I’d prefer you try first. I am curious as to how well a were could stand up against your ammunition and skills. It would potentially be valuable information.”

“I agree. And it’s not like I don’t have the weaponry to give it a decent shot.”

“No pun intended.”

Renato snickered. “Not intended, but apropos. I’m not sure if I can negate healing. Sun Flames are about activation, about stimulation and augmentation. I don’t know if I can stimulate in the opposite direction.”

“Extant bacteria and germs?”

“Hm. Possibly. I can certainly stimulate cell regeneration, so I suppose I could try the same with those.”

“Perhaps you could test it in a petri dish? Some samples in a solution. People die from sepsis. If you could get it to work in laboratory conditions, you could always try it on an opponent some time. Sometimes I wonder if you healed me.”

“Wha—oh,” Renato said, eyeing him speculatively. “If I did, it wasn’t a deliberate action. I don’t recall sitting down one day and thinking, ‘Maybe I can stimulate the growth of alternate pathways.’ I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But if I did, that’s a very interesting thought, too.”

He shrugged. “Or maybe you’re just that good.”

Renato leaned in for a serious sort of kiss.

*

Greyback was in Germany, according to successive uses of a locating spell by Hisui. They crossed the border and steadily got closer. “I think he’s in this forest,” he commented, not long after they arrived at Haslach. There was a dense patch of forest to the north. “How do you feel about being ninjas and going in through the tree tops?”

Renato nodded. “I always wanted to be a ninja.”

He snorted in amusement. “Well, let’s get something to eat first, I guess, and then we can head out?”

Renato nodded again and started looking around. An hour and a half later they were outside staring at the forest again. Once they got inside the tree line and out of casual sight, Hisui lifted them both to stand up high on a thick branch, then did another location spell. Thirty minutes later they were perched on another branch high up, having had fun leaping from tree to tree courtesy of altered personal gravity.

Renato turned his head to whisper into his ear. “I count thirty. Maybe more in some of those tents. But they’re eating, so…”

He nodded and turned to whisper back, “I am more than a little sickened to see in person just how many children there are. Unfortunately, I have no idea what Germany’s policies are on werewolves.”

“Look at them, though. They’re eating like savages and snarling at each other.”

He sighed softly. The odds of rehabilitation? Probably not worth calculating if they intended to remove a serious threat to mundanes and magicals alike. He turned to whisper, “All right. I’ll start with Greyback. You start shooting those explosive rounds—left side first? I’ll explode those on the right. On the third tap. But beware if spells start coming this way. I have no idea what will happen if you shoot from inside any protection I throw up.”

Renato nodded, so Hisui got his lover’s rifle out of his extended pouch and handed it over. Once Renato was set and braced partially against the trunk, Hisui started the count by tapping the side of his foot against his lover’s. On three he reached out and decompressed Greyback’s head, then moved on to the next target. A few targets did emerge from the tents and were also taken care of.

When he could no longer sense any living beings down there he sighed. “All right. I’m going to clean up. Don’t know if any of their fluids can infect someone unfortunate enough to stumble over this, so…”

Renato nodded and started unloading the rifle, so Hisui used a singularity to sanitize the entire clearing, including a good inch of soil, then accepted the rifle back and stowed it away, along with the magazines. To be certain he lowered them both down to the ground and swept around for casings to likewise stow, simply on the off chance that some magical member of Greyback’s pack who had not been present showed up and could somehow use them to figure out how to find the user.

Since they were in Germany they decided to visit Berlin. It was not as though either of them were on a schedule. Renato sent a text to Antonio while they were waiting on transport. “I told him we’d give him the full story in Milan, but we were going to do a little sightseeing first.”

They found the magical district there without much trouble, not that they had been looking for it. It might have been the guy wearing a horrific mishmash of mundane clothing heading into a dodgy-looking establishment that most people passed right by that counted as a clue. Hisui stopped Renato with a hand on his arm, and discreetly pointed. “Only magicals dress that discordantly in the mundane world.”

“Well, there’s a café right over there. How about we get something to eat and keep an eye on the place?”

He nodded, so they went over to ask for and get a window table. Over the time it took them to eat, which they did slowly, a half dozen more badly-dressed persons went into that same establishment, and several came out. Renato could only see people disappearing or appearing, which was a huge clue in favor of the idea of it being a gateway. Right after Renato handed over a credit card to pay the bill a couple showed up with a child in tow. The adults were confused, but the girl suddenly pointed and tugged on her mother’s hand. The girl led them in.

“I’d say that more or less confirms it,” he commented.

A short time later they were inside to look around. Maybe they would be mistaken for mundane-savvy in sartorial terms, but Hisui was not exactly worried about it. The gateway itself was small, much like some of the ones in Japan, and quickly opened out into the enclave itself, a long street with buildings lining either side.

“Good thing we know so many languages,” Renato mused, “or most of this would be lost on us. Same as when we were in Kyoto that first time?”

He nodded. They started going up the right-hand side, heading into any shops of vague interest, and eventually reached a bank at the far end. The street split, going off at angles to either side of the bank. The right side looked to devolve into less overtly-signed shops and housing. The left side looked dark and grimy in contrast. It sparked something in his memory. “This reminds me a lot of the one time I was taken to the alley in London,” he murmured. “I expect that side is something like their version of an underworld.”

“Really,” Renato drawled. “Let’s go look.”

So they did, with Hisui prepared to manifest a sphere at a moment’s notice if necessary, and keeping close to Renato so he would also be protected. There were hags, witches, and wizards, and all of them looked like they had not bathed in weeks or longer. The stench in that part of the enclave was horrid. Street vendors tried to sell them all manner of oddities and the shops specialized in peculiar trade, none of which was of interest.

“This is more of a joke than I expected,” Renato muttered.

“This is probably just the dregs, and shops with stuff that’s just dodgy instead of outright illegal. After seeing what’s here, I’d like to think the so-called ‘dark’ magicals have more sense than to set up shop in a place like this.”

Renato shrugged. “Well, whatever. What say we head back down the other side of the main street?”

He nodded and they turned around, began to walk back, but stopped dead when they heard a strange explosion. Hisui pivoted back to see clouds of smoke billowing from one of the doors, then a man darting out of the building, squealing in fear.

Renato’s sharp eyes caught movement near the door sill and pointed it out. It was a tiny little thing. “That’s … a chameleon?” he muttered.

The little fellow noticed them and headed their way with that peculiar walk chameleons had. Oddly, it had blood red eyes and a strange aura wisping off it like tatters of silken flames. Hisui reached out and grabbed the man, who gibbered in fear, drawing him inexorably closer.

Renato crouched down and eyed the beast, then started talking to it. Since Hisui could not understand any of it he turned his attention to the man. “What happened?” When the man simply babbled nonsensically he compressed him faintly in warning. “Talk.”

There had been an accident involving one of the man’s chameleons, a very recently discovered boggart in a cupboard, a dementor that had decided for some reason to look for a meal in the area instead of going off after easier prey, and the man’s panicked, uncontrolled magical outbursts in response.

He glanced back at Renato and the creature; they were conversing still. “I suggest you be more careful in the future,” he said to the man, releasing him. “Now get lost.”

The man caught sight of the creature, shrieked, and fled down the street.

He moved back to his lover, his gait hitching slightly when the creature turned a baleful eye his way.

Renato glanced at him briefly, but kept his main focus on the creature. “This little one seems amazingly intelligent.”

“I don’t know if you were listening, but I think it’s part boggart, part dementor, however in hell that’s possible. Potentially shape-shifting, fear-finding, and soul-sucking.”

Renato clucked his tongue and started conversing with the little fellow again, so Hisui kept an eye on their surroundings. They came to some kind of agreement, because the next thing he knew the “chameleon” was ambling over to crawl onto Renato’s hand, and allowed itself to be planted on his lover’s hat.

Hisui just shook his head in bemusement. “Well, you did want a super cool chameleon.”

Renato grinned.

“But I wonder how Leon will react.”

The grin slipped off his lover’s face. “The present Leon is … getting on in years. I’m not sure it will matter, for long, anyway. I’m more concerned about Yori’s reaction.”

He reached over to give a little tug to Renato’s sleeve and started walking back toward the shopping area proper. “I guess we’ll know when we get him home. Dementors and boggarts are classified as amortal non-beings. There’s a very good chance that this little one won’t die, or at least have a vastly extended lifespan. Never run across something like this. Hard to say what effect there’d be with the inclusion of a mortal creature to the mix. I wonder what he eats.” He grimaced at the idea of finding neighbors with their souls sucked out or fleeing in screaming terror because the creature shape-shifted into their worst fears.

“He has a strange accent,” Renato said, “but yeah, I’ll have to ask. Right now he’s a little confused. I think the chameleon brain has precedence because of the shape he ended up in. Amortal?”

“Not classified as alive or dead, really, and no natural deaths. Creatures of that ilk tend to be formed or created instead of born. Our little friend here is unique, and I have to wonder at the odds of us being in the right place, so to speak. Dementors were ‘native’ to Britain, from quite a ways back, due to some psycho or other, but things got shook up because of Big Evil. The only place I think they can’t be found now is in the tropics. I have a book on it somewhere you can read if you want.”

By then they were back in the alley proper and began to check over the new offerings, but aside from a handful of books they found nothing of particular interest. A few more days in Berlin saw them starting the journey to Milan. Hisui considered simply apparating them in stages, but he was unsure how the most recent Leon would handle it, so they took trains.

Antonio met them at the suite they had secured in a hotel owned by the Vongola through various fronts. “Good to see you two back,” he said.

Renato hummed, then said, “The short version of the hit is that the target was tracked to a forest in Germany. We went in using the trees as a highway, and scoped out the situation from above. Unfortunately he had around thirty-five weres with him of varying ages, all acting like something out of Lord of the Flies. After a discussion of how best to handle the conditions, we took all of them out, then cleaned up. I expect if anyone in that pack was elsewhere, they’d come back to something of a mystery.”

Antonio nodded. “Above and beyond, but personally, I think it was the right call. After learning more about werewolves, I have to say they scare me silly. His type, anyway. I suppose like with anything else, there’s probably civilized ones.”

“I know of at least one,” Hisui said. “That was forever ago, though. Still alive from what I’ve heard, so he’s probably still playing normal human as much as possible.”

Antonio handed over one of the usual cards. “There may be another one. Depends on what Nono has to say once I’ve reported in. He did say… Since you two are really our only insight to the magical world, he wanted to know if you’d keep me updated on any events that might impact us, so I can pass them on.”

He nodded. It would mean spending more time in one of the enclaves, but perhaps he could just pay for papers to be delivered to the house in Namimori and go over them every weekend to compile a report. On the other hand, doing that would mean someone somewhere would know a magical was living there, and that did not sit well with him. Buying them personally it was, then.

“Let me know when you two are ready to return to Japan. Nono is making his jet available again, since you came here at his request.” He left shortly after.

“Well, we’re here on an impromptu holiday,” Renato said. “Yori and Leon are set at the house for a bit yet. We can afford to stay a bit longer. Up for it?”

“Sure.”

As it was so close by they swung through Pavia to visit with Shamal, who seemed happy enough to see them, even if he did sort of hitch in his greeting, on seeing Hisui, and remembering that he was not, in fact, female. It was not until after they were seated in the same restaurant as before that Shamal said, “I’ve been hearing some fascinating ghost stories lately. It’s almost enough to revive my interest in the supernatural.”

Renato’s mouth twisted into an amused smirk. “That’s the thing about ghosts. You often can’t even see them, even when they’re right there hovering over your shoulder. The way I hear it, they usually only come out when they’re about to scare you to death.”

Shamal eyed Renato with a mixture of curiosity and frustration. “You would know, I suppose.”

“Oh, I’ve had my run-ins with ghosts.”

Hisui looked away, then paused. He tapped his lover’s arm and gestured discreetly at a flickering red aura peeking out over the half walls of a table across the room. The sound of a voice was rising steadily. Shamal also turned to look, and Hisui could see him blink in surprise.

“Shit,” Shamal muttered, then gave Hisui a sharp, searching look.

He ignored him and continued to eye the disturbance.

“Sounds like a Storm is brewing,” Renato observed quietly. “Too bad we can’t see who, precisely. Italian, proper accent, so a native, or had a really good teacher. Sounds young.”

“Not so young that I can’t tell it’s a boy,” Shamal said.

Their waitress wandered by at that moment with plates of food and, after she set them down, Renato did something under the table that caused Shamal’s face to twist in pain, then smiled charmingly at the woman. “Is everything all right over there?” he asked, jutting his chin toward the other table for a second.

She got a resigned look on her face and glanced over her shoulder. “It happens often enough. Marco is a firecracker. Signore Varano has his hands full with that one.” She shook her head. “Anything else I can get for you?”

Renato aimed another smile at her and shook his head. The second she wandered off he had his phone out and was sending a text message to Antonio. Hisui simply started eating his meal, keeping an eye on the disturbance in his peripheral vision.

Shamal stared at him again.

He glanced back over his shoulder, then said, “You seeing a yūrei back there? Because I want to know if this is my last meal.”

“I don’t fucking believe it,” Shamal muttered. “You’re active. And—”

“That’s a piss-poor way to treat good food,” Renato pointed out, nodding at Shamal’s plate. “I know I invited you and all, but I’m not paying for your share if you waste it.”

Shamal frowned at the diversion and began eating, casting the occasional sharply curious look his way, but confined himself to safe topics of conversation, such as how his degree work was going, or how many women he had seduced recently. “What are you doing in Italy again, anyway?”

“What? I’m not allowed to return to my home country?”

Shamal grunted. “Half your home country.”

“I’ve lived more years here than in France, so…” Renato countered.

“Oh, sure, split hairs, why don’t you,” Shamal complained. “Wait a minute. You didn’t answer my question.”

“I did,” Renato insisted.

“You—damn it,” Shamal cursed. “You’re trying to distract me, divert my attention. We’ve known each other for how many years? You should know better that it doesn’t work for long.” He eyed Hisui again.

He leaned sideways and said to Renato quietly, “I am starting to think he swings both ways. Should I be concerned for my virtue?”

Renato chuckled and had some wine. “Oh, tesoro. He knows I’d kill him in a heartbeat. Or just emasculate him if I was feeling generous.”

He played along. “You’re so sweet, Ren-koi.”

Shamal’s countenance kept darkening at the diversion.

“But you know I can take care of myself.”

Renato chuckled again and reached over to stroke the back of his neck briefly.

Hisui looked over with a faint smile and did a double-take. Bizarro Leon was wisping again, only that time the flames were reaching out toward Shamal.

Renato looked up, almost going cross-eyed in his attempt to understand what he was seeing, and slowly followed the flow to Shamal. The moment they touched the man it was like a switch flipped. The bad mood and frustration all bled away in the heartbeat it took for those dark wisps of flame to touch him and then retreat.

“Well now, isn’t that interesting.”