“I don’t know who did it,” he muttered, still glaring at the floor. “Just some guy in a bathroom.”
James hesitated for a moment, then began to raise his head towards his grandfather, before Hideyoshi stopped him short.
“Don’t,” the old man grunted. “Please don’t look at me right now.”
James considered that for a moment, before that sense of betrayal won over, and he looked the man in the eye.
For what it was worth, Hideyoshi didn’t flinch. His face was set and red, every muscle standing out in contrast beneath his skin. His eyes were wide. He looked back at his grandson, and James wasn’t even sure if he was seeing him.
Huh, he thought. So that’s what hatred looks like.
Hideyoshi held his gaze for a moment, then looked away.
“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath, just the tiniest touch of shame cutting through his voice. James watched as the man stepped away, rolling his head a little on his shoulders, his hands slowly unclenching once more from fists. It didn’t work.
“Fuck!” Hideyoshi bellowed, swinging an arm towards the nearest of the couches lining the training mat. James thought he saw a flash of something red dash forth from his grandfather’s hand, before the couch exploded, erupting with a whumpf in a plume of light and heat.
James stepped forwards towards the counter-top, and rested on his elbows against it, watching. How was this supposed to make him feel? What was any of this supposed to do? He watched as his grandfather raised his hands to his face and let out a loud, muffled scream against his palms.
The fire alarm went off.
Neither of them reacted much as the water began spraying from the ceiling, covering everything below in a layer of damp, faintly musty smelling fluid. It didn’t even manage to put out the fire.
From off to the side, James heard footsteps. Someone running. He glanced across, just in time to see Tasha emerge from the hallway, her expression panicked. She looked to Hideyoshi, still caught in whatever battle was raging on inside himself, then looked to James, and saw his face.
“Ah,” she grunted, her face going from adrenaline to scowl in an instant. “So I’m guessing he’s your granddad, then.”
“Yeah,” he muttered back as she began picking her way over to him, utterly ignoring the water beginning to soak its way through her clothes. “He didn’t take it well.”
In the corner of his eye, James watched as something else exploded. Another couch? No. That one looked like a table.
After a moment or two, Tasha reached him, leaning down on her elbows beside him on the counter.
They watched together in silence for a minute as Hideyoshi raged. Then, the old man slumped himself down in the smoldering remains of a chair, and held his head in his hands.
James felt a hand settle gently on his back, and glanced across. Tasha was gazing at him, that scowl still fixed quite firmly to her face. She jerked her head silently to Hideyoshi.
He took a breath, pushed himself back up from his place against the kitchen counter, and nodded.
However out of it Hideyoshi was, it seemed there was still a place somewhere inside him that was annoyed by the blaring of the fire alarm. Around the time that James made it halfway to him, he jerked a wrist in the direction of the ceiling, and the noise went quiet with a crack of snapping plastic.
The couch was still on fire as James moved towards the spot beside his grandpa, but he threw an absent gust of wind, and the flames died away a tad. Hideyoshi saw the boy approach, and the fire died down a deal further.
It should have felt awkward, James thought as he wrapped his arms around the older man’s chest, pressing a cheek against his ribs. It wasn’t, though. His grandfather was very warm in the present damp. The man was still for a moment, then James felt a hand come to rest atop his head, the fingers tussling at his hair.
“I hoped you’d never see me like that,” Hideyoshi muttered, mournful.
“I never wanted you to see this thing, either,” he replied, raising a finger to give his mark a flick. “Didn’t want you looking at me different.”
James shook his head.
“Don’t,” he muttered, pulling back for a moment, before bringing his head forwards against his grandfather’s ribs in a gentle headbutt. “What matters is we’re family, right? We love each other.”
“… You promise you won’t be scared of me?” The hand atop his head gave his hair another ruffle.
“Only if you promise not to feel sorry for me.”
Hideyoshi let out a quiet chuckle.
“Guess we have a deal there.” He shot a glance around the room as the last of the water ran out, and laughed again. “Your grandma’s gonna be pissed. I kinda broke the living room.”
“Dibs not telling.”
“Little brat.” Hideyoshi leaned back a little in his seat, and let out a sigh. “Now then. Let’s have a talk about what to tell your Dad.”
“Are you sure this is okay?” James asked, climbing out of the car to rejoin his grandfather. “Like, one hundred percent?”
“Yes, James,” Hideyoshi sighed. “I’m sure. Peter’s already a high level mage, and your mother knows most of the important bits. As long as we keep the crime fighting to ourselves, there shouldn’t be a problem. Now come on. Let’s get it done.” The older man jerked a thumb behind his back towards James’ house across the street, and began to walk, fiddling momentarily with the electric lock on his car key as he went. James, after a moment’s hesitation, followed along in his wake. They passed the gate, and Hideyoshi tapped firmly on the door with his knuckles.
It took a few moments for anyone to answer. James shuffled his feet; his grandfather put his hands in his pockets. Then, with a series of small clicks, the door opened.
“Hi, Dad,” Peter murmured as his eyes fell on Hideyoshi. Then he saw his son. “James? I thought you went to the movies?”
“Yeah,” Hideyoshi nodded. “We met up. Some things happened. I found the flying kid you were looking for.”
Peter shot his son a glance at that, before giving Hideyoshi a glare.
“Flying kid?” he asked. “Not sure what you m-”
“Dad,” James muttered, his cheeks growing rather warm. “It’s me. I’m the flying kid.”
“… You’re what?”
At that, Hideyoshi chuckled.
“Just show him, James. It’s easier to explain it that way.”
James hesitated a moment, glancing around the empty street to make sure no one was watching, before lifting himself an inch or two above the ground. He stayed like that, hovering awkwardly above the porch, for a few seconds, before once more lowering himself to the ground.
“… I heard someone caught my picture when that lightning guy attacked?”
For a moment. Peter only stared, gazing down at his son, his expression utterly blank.
A few hours later, James lay on Casper’s bed, listening to the sounds emanating from the other boy’s game.
It hadn’t taken the older Toranagas long to banish James from the conversation, retiring to Peter’s study to hash out some kind of schedule, and leaving him once more to his own devices. Lacking anything else to do, he’d gravitated to Casper’s room, hearing the muted sound of his television through the crack beneath the door.
It was fun, at first, if a little quiet. Neither boy was much in the mood for talking.
“How’d the thing with Doctor Sharpe go?” James asked, staring absently at the ceiling above the bedspread. “She help you think about some stuff?”
“Kinda,” Casper agreed, his eyes on the television screen as he piloted his character across a field. James quietly regretted that they only had the one controller. “It was weird. Think it helped me sort some things, though. Like how weird it is when you all go Japanese on me.”
“Hey. If you wanted me to teach you, I wouldn’t say no.”
“Not the point,” Casper murmured, rolling his eyes. They were silent for a time after that, before the older boy spoke again. “… Have you been avoiding me?”
“Just a little,” James replied, after only a moment’s hesitation. “You said you wanted some time so you could deal with stuff.”
The other boy didn’t reply to that at first. James glanced sideways at him, and saw his eyes still focused on the screen. Boss fight. James looked away again. A moment or two later, there was a sound of swiping metal, and the familiar trill of the game over music. Casper sighed.
“Is that why you didn’t tell me you keep sneaking out at night?” he asked, leaning back on his hands as he turned his gaze to James. “I have a radar brain, James. I notice sometimes when you start climbing out your window.”
James frowned at that. Not annoyed, really. He wasn’t entirely sure what this feeling was. The window exits had happened a few times early on; Caleb calling him out at night time, before they started organizing better excuses.
“Yeah,” he murmured. “It’s why I didn’t tell you. I had Tasha backing me up, and I was giving you a break.”
“… So you gonna tell me now?” Casper asked, his voice just a fraction too casual as he started back up his game.
James frowned a little harder at that. Why did it feel like he was being made a bad guy, here? It wasn’t like Casper hadn’t been acting funny too, the last few weeks.
“Depends,” he muttered. “You gonna tell me what happened after you ran away?” In the corner of his eye, Casper gave the tiniest of flinches. He hesitated for half a second, before adding: “You gonna tell me where you got that second phone?”
“… You mean the one your parents got me?” Casper asked, his tone wavering almost unnoticeably.
“No,” he murmured back. “The other one.”
He’d noticed it first about a week ago, how one or two times out of three, Casper’s phone would buzz instead of chime when he got a text, or how it would switch pockets when he wasn’t looking. At first, he’d just dismissed it. A mild inconsistency; not even enough to stick in the mind.
But then something obvious had happened.
They’d been making castles in the hall with Bex, when Casper’s phone had chimed; a message from James’ mom about what snacks he liked in his lunchbox. That hadn’t been the unusual part. That had come when James went upstairs to use the bathroom, only to hear a buzzing as he passed by Casper’s room. When he’d peeked in through the slightly open door, there’d been another phone charging on Casper’s bedside, identical to the first. When he’d gone to look, there’d been a single message on the screen:
‘Have a good day at school?’ from a sender by the name of ‘F’.
James waited a while for Casper to answer, and when no reply was forthcoming, he tried again.
“… You gonna tell me who F is?”
What followed felt like the longest silence of James’ life, before Casper simply sighed.
“No,” he muttered. “I guess I’m not.” He lowered the controller down between his knees, and once more turned his gaze to James. “Guess we’re keeping secrets now, huh?”
James returned his friend’s gaze and gave him a smile, a little sad.
“Yeah. I guess we are.” He pushed himself upright. “… Promise you’ll tell me if it gets you into trouble?”
“Only if you promise that, too.” He returned James that same saddened smile, but it had a crack in it. “We’re still friends, right?”
“… Yeah. We’re still friends.” James climbed to his feet and made his way towards the door, then stopped. “I told my dad about my magic,” he said quietly. “He’s cool with it. Just thought I should let you know.”
With that, James exited the room, and closed the door behind him.
If he wanted time to breathe. He didn’t get it. Only a minute after he’d made it to his room, sitting himself down pensively on his bed, there was a creak from the door as his father edged his way inside. The silence this time was just awkward as the two of them gazed across at one another. Then, finally, Peter spoke.
“So I guess you’re a mage now, huh?”