“I don’t give a damn if I need bed rest,” Hideyoshi Toranaga growled. “I am going to track that woman down and end her.”
“Of course you are, dear,” Tsuru murmured. “Are you comfortable like that, or would you like me to get you another pillow?”
“… Don’t patronize me, woman.”
“You need crutches, dear.” She moved to his bedside, and began pouring out a pot of tea.
Hideyoshi shot a hateful glance at the foam and metal crutches against his wall and let out a groan.
“Don’t remind me. Those things make me feel old.”
“We’ve been old for centuries,” Tsuru murmured, still focused on the tea.
“Well, it didn’t feel that way before.”
James allowed his gaze to flit between his grandparents as they spoke, one eyebrow raised. How were they both so calm right now? Jiji had nearly died.
He nearly jumped as Casper leaned over his shoulder to whisper in his ear:
“It’s all in Japanese. What are they saying?”
“They’re being weird about death,” he muttered back. “Baba’s teasing him about being old.”
“Makes sense,” the older boy replied. “They’re both freaking the hell out; trying to calm each other down.”
“They’re freaking out?” James asked. “They’re acting super calm, tho.”
“… I kinda wish I had your powers.”
“Stop your muttering, you two,” Tsuru said sharply, her words reverting to English. “It’s rude with other people in the room.”
“I don’t speak Japanese.” Casper pointed out.
“Don’t get fresh with me, Casper. What are you boys here for?”
The boys looked at one another. James shrugged.
“Jiji said he was gonna train me, right?”
“That’s the plan,” Tsuru murmured. “What of it?”
“Was that gonna include, like, combat magic and stuff?”
Tsuru glanced towards her husband, who gave James a nod.
“That’s the idea, yes. Why, did you want to get Casper in on it too?”
“Yeah,” James admitted. “… Also… I wanna start today. Like. Right now.”
His grandmother snorted.
“Eager, are you? So was Peter. Well. Your grandfather’s still a little too out of it for now, but I can certainly give you boys some pointe-”
“No,” Hideyoshi grunted. “Not a chance.”
James scowled at his grandfather. So did Tsuru.
“I know it’s not my turn, Yoshi,” she muttered. “But it’s not as if I’ll be keeping them forever.”
“I’m not that petty, Tsuru,” Hideyoshi snapped. “Think about what he’s done in the last two months. He hides things, he plots, and when his friends get in trouble, he tries to handle it himself-” he shot a glance at James then. “-I’m very proud of you for that, by the way-” He looked back at his wife, her own expression now contemplative. “Ask yourself the chances of him running off half cocked to save his friend if you start teaching him the basics.”
Tsuru thought for a moment, then nodded, and looked back at her grandson, arms crossed, expression neutral.
Internally, James cussed with all the vitriol he could summon.
“Oh, thank God,” muttered Casper from behind James’ back. “These guys actually know you. Yeah. He’s totally planning that.”
James turned around at that, appalled at his friend’s sudden betrayal.
“Hey, no fair!” he said, making no effort to hide the hurt in his tone. “I’m not Tasha! I think about this stuff!”
Casper just looked at him at that.
“I got a text from Father,” he said flatly. “He told me he thinks you’re adorable. And he says you punched him through a wall.”
Behind him, James heard Hideyoshi choking on his tea. He shot the other boy a glare, then turned back to his grandparents. Tsuru was already shaking her head, her expression stern. His grandfather was still coughing.
“Okay,” he tried. “I know this sounds bad, but I can explain-”
“The answer’s no, young man,” Tsuru replied. “Don’t make me tell Peter about this.”
“Son of a flip,” James muttered. “Look, I thought it through, okay? I was there two hours before he got there, just to make sure I had a big attack charged up in case he tried anything. And I knew he wouldn’t touch me if he-”
“You’re not helping your case here,” Tsuru growled.
It was at that point when James gave up the last of his composure.
“But he was trying to screw my friend!” he shouted. “What was I supposed to do!?”
The room was quiet for a moment then, before Hideyoshi sighed.
“No one here can answer that for you, James,” he murmured. “Youth and inexperience aside, you’re one of the strongest mages on the planet. You have people you want to protect, and the power to see it done.” He shook his head. “But you’re still a kid, and you’re messing with forces far too big for you. We’re your grandparents. We love you. We refuse to let you throw yourself to the wolves.”
For a second, James just stood there, hands balled into fists. He wasn’t dumb. He knew all of this. Even so, he couldn’t bring himself to let it lie. His gaze dropped to the floor.
“You said you’d let me make my own mistakes,” he muttered.
“I also said I’d save you when I had to,” Hideyoshi answered. “This woman fought Tsuru, Caleb and myself all on the same night; while Caleb was empowered with your energy, no less. Even considering what she was up against, she managed to knock two of us out cold. You are not to go anywhere near her.”
James continued staring at the ground, allowing the words to wash over him. There had to be something he could say. He had to make them understand.
“He likes him,” said Casper. James looked around, his grandparents following his gaze. His friend looked back at him, eyes querying, asking permission. James thought about it for a moment, then gave a resigned shrug. They’d have to find out some time. Casper nodded, opened his mouth, then stopped when James shook his head.
“I’ll do it,” he muttered. He turned towards his grandparents, still not looking at them. “It’s the kid they took; Charlie… He’s not just my friend, okay?… I like him.”
A momentary silence, then another sigh from his grandpa.
“… Promise you won’t tell dad?”
“It’s not ours to tell,” Tsuru’s voice replied.
James took a deep breath, then forced himself to look at his grandparents, his cheeks still a little red.
“I wanna save him.”
Tsuru shook her head.
“You’re too close to this,” she answered. “Even if you were fully trained. Emotion gets in the way, and you have a lot of emotions on your mind. It’d make you reckless. You’d make mistakes.” James opened his mouth. She forestalled him with a hand. “But I can see where you’re coming from. You deserve to know what’s going on. We captured six of their operatives the night that they took Charlie. Those operatives are currently being interrogated by some of the most efficient specialists America has to offer.”
She was gazing at him now. Not hostile, but stern. He hesitated, then nodded for her to continue.
“It wasn’t just Charlie who got taken. We’ve been getting reports of people vanishing from their beds in at least three other cities outside the country. This has become an international matter. Interpol is currently coordinating between the United States and half the police departments in Europe, trying to find out who these people are, and where the hell they came from.”
She took a deep breath, then continued.
“Hideyoshi and I are well aware that this is going to be a sizeable fight. We have reached out to some friends of ours in Egypt and Japan, and those friends are already on their way to the U.S.” She paused for a moment there, her gaze steady with James’ own. “The moment we can find a lead on where these people are, Charlie’s mother will create a portal to extract him. Then, we shall lay into his captors with all the fury we possess. I promise, James; everything that can be done is being done.”
“… There’s gotta be something I can do,” James muttered. “Even if it’s just giving my powers away again… I don’t wanna be useless again.”
Hideyoshi answered before Tsuru could.
“You’re not useless,” he grunted. “I know this feels like a loss because your-” he searched around a moment for the right word. “-friend is gone, but the truth of the matter is that your involvement put Tsuru and myself on the scene. In doing that, you rescued all the other children that woman was trying to take from New York. You allowed the capture of those six enemy officers, and your energy allowed Caleb to break free of his chains with only a collection of broken bones to show for it, even rescuing two of his fellows in the process. The things we gained from that encounter will likely be what allows us to save Charlie in the end. You helped, James.”
James took his grandfather’s words and tried to absorb them, weighing them as best he could against the pain in his gut.
“… This sucks,” he muttered, wiping his nose against his sleeve.
The four of them lapsed into a somber sort of quiet. Casper gave his hand a squeeze.
Stupid radar brain, he thought, squeezing back.
Eventually, Tsuru broke the quiet with a sigh.
“I want the two of you back here tomorrow morning for your first lesson,” she muttered. “No combat magic until after this is done, but we can at least get you started on the initial meditations. As for you,” she turned to Casper. “I don’t know who exactly taught you what you know thus far, but I’ll be teaching you a variant of the shield spell; something to protect your body and mind since you’re apparently so hell-bent on spending time with Father.” She considered for a moment. “James too. For my own peace of mi-”
She was interrupted by James’ form colliding with her chest.
“Thank you!” he crowed, giving his grandmother the tightest hug he could manage. “Thank you thank you thank you!”
“Don’t thank me, squirt. We both know if I didn’t give you something, you’d have run off to find another teacher. I just didn’t want you running loose with Caleb’s fire glove spell.”
James got halfway through a laugh, before the image hit his brain of himself hovering above the city, his arms wreathed in emerald fire. He went very still.
“… That’d be so freakin’ cool.”