“Explain to me why I’m piggybacking you there, again?” Tasha grumbled, her tone more one of amusement than annoyance.
“That’s what you get for slapping that mud-pie in my face,” James replied, forcing himself to sound relaxed as he once more tried to scratch some of the pasted on grit off of his cheek. “That was just rude. I mean, where did you even find mud round here? It’s freaking Summer.”
“Used a water bottle to make some,” the older girl replied with a chuckle, swinging a left around a corner at a jog. “You needed to ease up, you know? Nothing beats some mud in the face for stopping people being dumb.”
James scowled at that.
“… Not dumb.”
Again, Tasha only chuckled.
“So, why’d you want to go see this guy, anyways? And why’d you hang up on him? He say something creepy?”
“No,” James muttered. “Nothing creepy. I…” He sighed. “I think I might know the guy.”
“Oh yeah?” Tasha asked, surprised. “Know him how? Some old school teacher or something?”
“… My grandad.”
“Nah,” Tasha murmured, glancing from side to side, before making a dash across the street from the old industrial complex towards the city proper. “Just kinda makes sense, you know? He’s a powerful dude. You’re a powerful kid. Makes sense you’d have a badass in your family.”
“… Guess so,” James hunched a little lower over Tasha’s shoulders, thoughtful.
“Dude,” she grunted after a moment. “Lighten up. This is a good thing, right? You were worried about your family freaking out about magic, and now it looks like they already know. That’s good, isn’t it?”
James didn’t answer at that. His thoughts were still too muddled inside his head.
“… You think Caleb’s gonna stay angry at me?” he asked instead, his mind turning back to the older boy. Caleb hadn’t taken it well when James had asked Tasha to introduce him to her teacher. He’d stopped short of shouting, at least; instead resorting to a number of muffled curses and punching the table he was sitting on hard enough to dent the metal. In the end, he’d made James swear not to mention him to anyone besides Tasha, before storming off. Of all things, James could have sworn he sounded betrayed.
“He’s a dick if he does,” Tasha replied with a shrug, sending James an inch or two higher on her shoulders for a moment as she ran. “It’s your life. Just cuz you’ve got a better thing going on than him doesn’t mean he gets to be a bitch about it. We’ve all got our shit do deal with.”
“Heh,” she chuckled. “Don’t take my word for it, though. I can be pretty dumb sometimes, you know?”
“Yeah.” He grinned. “But you’re wise.” He raised a hand from the older girl’s shoulder for a moment, and rapped his knuckles against her skull. “Stupid wise.”
“You keep going like that and I’m gonna make you walk.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“I totally would.”
The remainder of the journey passed this way, the pair of them bickering lightly as Tasha jogged along the street, James perched comfortably atop her back. It was nice. Tasha was good at taking his mind off things.
When they reached the apartment block in question, though, James went quiet. Tasha guided him in through a foyer and into an elevator in silence, before pushing the button marked for the top floor.
“… You ready for this?” she asked, shooting him a glance over her shoulder. “You’ve been getting kinda tense back there.”
“Just nerves,” he muttered, not looking at her. “Either it’s him, or I’m just gonna get some advice from a guy, right?”
“Right,” she nodded. “… You sure you believe that?”
“I want to.”
At that, Tasha only laughed.
“Don’t worry about it, bud. If it helps, I can do the talking. Kay?”
The elevator chimed at that, and the doors slid open, revealing a single, dimly lit room roughly of a size with the inside of the elevator, at the end of which was another door, this one with a keyhole.
“… No,” he shook himself as his friend stepped towards the door, pulling a set of keys from her bag. “A-actually… Do you mind if I do this on my own? It… I kinda wanna talk to him alone.”
“Sure. I’ll be waiting here if you need me.” With that, Tasha unlocked the door with a click, and pulled it open, showing a blank, wood panelled wall beyond. “He, uh. He’s probably down the hall to the left.” She jerked a thumb out into the hallway. “Just follow the wall thataways, kay?”
James didn’t bother climbing down off the girl’s back. Instead, he let himself float upwards off of her, before drifting in through the door.
“Hey, Teach,” Tasha called from behind him, loud enough to make him jump. “I brought that kid who needed some advice. He said he kinda wanted to see you.”
Glancing around, James caught sight of the hall Tasha had pointed him to, down the end of which, a familiar voice let out a sigh.
“Fine, fine. Bring him in. It’s a little rude to hang up on people like that, you know.”
James followed the voice down to the end of the hallway, where it opened out into a room caught somewhere between a library and a dojo, all shelves and books and chairs, gathered in a circle around a broad tatami mat. On the far side of the mat, clear as day, sat James’ grandfather, a book balanced on his knee, not looking at him.
James stopped moving for a moment when he saw the man, simply hanging in the air, hardly daring to breathe.
Wow. Okay. This is real. It’s Jiji. Right. You can do this, James. You got this.
“U-um,” he tried, his voice barely audible through the nerves. “H-hi there, G-Gran-”
“There you are,” Hideyoshi cut him off, sparing him an irritable glance before returning his gaze to his book. “So you’re the flying kid, huh? Well, first thing’s first, you’re gonna get yourself in a boatload of trouble if you keep doing that all over the place.”
“Uh… Grandad? It’s me…” he tried again, his voice even smaller than before.
Again, Hideyoshi either ignored him, or simply didn’t hear, because his grandfather just kept on going.
“Second of all,” he grunted. “While I appreciate the things you did to help out my apprentice, I’m not a man who likes to be disrespected. You showed me disrespect when you hung up that phone and bullied your way into my house. If you want my help, you’re off to a rocky start.”
James stared at the older man, still just floating there at the edge of the hallway. Why was THIS the hard part?
Okay. He’s not listening. That’s okay. You just need to be louder. You can do that, right, James? What would Batman do?
“Hey, Grandad,” he tried again, forcing his voice out louder. “It’s me, Ja-”
“And furthermore,” Hideyoshi cut him off yet again, his voice growing louder now, his tone angry. “If you don’t stop interrupting me, kid, I will kick you out of this house, Tasha’s friend or not. Now. If you want my help. You’re going to apolo-” He stopped short as a gust of wind blasted the book from his hands, turning a furious gaze towards the boy, before his eyes went wide, and he stared.
“Jiisan!” James bellowed, this time in Japanese, more frustrated than he could remember being in his life. “It’s me! It’s James! I’ve had a hell of a day! I’ve had a hell of a MONTH! I got hit by LIGHTNING two weeks ago! I’ve been fighting child molesters, and evil wizards, and birds following me home from school, and if you don’t start listening to me, I WILL FLIP. MY. LID!”
James was shaking now, his hands balled into fists by his sides as he yelled. His lip was quivering. He could feel moisture gathering at the corners of his eyes. He wouldn’t cry. He promised himself that. He would not cry.
“James…” Hideyoshi breathed, still gazing across at him in shock. “Why are you flying?”
“I don’t know!” he shouted. “I don’t know a thing about any of this! One day I’m flying, the next I’m under attack! One day I’ve got wind powers, next I’m having to rescue Tasha from people with GUNS! I don’t know what’s going on!”
He was ranting. He knew he was ranting. He was spilling way too much; letting it out far too soon. He didn’t care anymore.
“I couldn’t tell Dad. I couldn’t tell Mom. I couldn’t tell you! I was scared, and alone, and now it turns out you knew all the time and you just didn’t tell me!”
He’d stopped looking at the older man at some point, and the feeling of his arms around him came as a surprise. It didn’t help. He was too angry, and too sad, and the last thing he wanted was that feeling of constriction. He was trapped. He couldn’t move. What happened next wasn’t a decision he could consciously remember making.
“Let. Me. GO!”
He felt the boy’s form give way beneath his arms just half a second or so before the wind blast hit him. It was by pure instinct, and instinct alone, that he threw up a barrier in time to save himself.
When it struck, it was with the force of a storm, the brunt of it sweeping him bodily off his feet, before sending him hurtling back through the air. A normal man might have cried out, lifted a hand; at least given some autonomic response to the blow. Hideyoshi was too busy being shocked.
He saw the world crackle white around him as his body struck a wall, and instead of simply bouncing off towards the floor, was carried through it.
He landed in a heap in a bedroom. Tuva’s, he realized absently. The girl was going to be angry when she got back.
He didn’t move. The floor was as good a place as any for coping with surprise.
My grandson just punched me through a wall.
My Grandson. Just punched me. Through a WALL.
For a moment, he felt the strangest surge of pride.
“… Jiji…” James asked tentatively. “… Are you okay? Please be okay. I didn’t mean t-”
“I’m fine, kiddo,” Hideyoshi’s voice grunted. “Where the hell’d you pull a blast like that from?”
Oh, thank heck. Okay. Time to be human again.
James glanced around, and through the eddies and waves in the air all around him, he caught sight of an open kitchen off near the the corner wall across from the corridor. He pulled his form back in around himself, then scooped up his clothes, and scooted in behind the counter in a dash, hoping beyond hope that his grandfather wouldn’t see.
“Sorry about your wall,” he called lamely as he began pulling on his pants.
“S’okay,” Hideyoshi called back amid the sounds of faintly cracking plaster. “I promise I’m not mad… Where’d you go?”
“Over here,” he replied, holding one arm over the top of the counter and waving it around as he tried to do his fly one handed. “Getting dressed!”
“… Why do you need to get dressed?”
“Using that much power kinda makes my body go weird.”
“Hah,” Hideyoshi chuckled, his voice closer now. “So your powers do that as well, huh? My fire does that, when I go all out.”
“… You have fire powers?”
“… I have the coolest grandad.”
“Little bit. Same goes for my grandson. Takes a lot to crack one of my shields. Way to go, slugger. So. When’d all of this come about?”
James tugged his shirt on over his head, and for a moment, wondered if he should bother dealing with his socks. He felt weirdly light. Almost giddy. This was good. He was moving. Finally. He was moving.
“I had a nightmare about a month ago,” he replied, quickly combing his hair back into place with his fingers, before standing up, turning to face his grandfather. “Kinda woke up floating above my bed.”
“Must have been a hell of a nightmare,” Hideyoshi murmured. “Most people need way worse than th-” The man caught sight of his grandson’s face and stopped, mid-sentence; his face going suddenly blank.
“… What?” James asked, an eyebrow raised. “There something on my face?” Then something cold dropped through his stomach with the weight of a bowling ball.
“… Jiji,” he said quietly, trying to force himself to stay calm. “T-that thing you think you’re seeing… Y-you’re not seeing it, okay?”
For a few moments, Hideyoshi didn’t move, besides the slow undulations of the muscles beneath his face, along with the clenching and unclenching of his fists. Then, he took a step forwards, reached over the kitchen counter-top, and brushed James’ bangs away from his eyes with a fingertip, leaving nothing at all to hide the marks on his grandson’s face from view.
James glared down at the floor as the older man took in the sight, then stepped back, folding his arms above his chest.
“… I said I had a nightmare,” he muttered. “Just… just leave it there, okay?”
Even if James had been willing to look his grandfather in the eye right then, it would have been next to impossible for him to track the emotions racing along across the older man’s face. For the longest time, both of them were quiet. Then, in a voice of calm so complete that James almost believed it was true, Hideyoshi spoke.
“James. I’d like you to tell me who did this to you, please.”