Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 195

“Would you care to join me for some dinner, so we can have something a bit more typical on this date?” asked James shortly after he picked me up.

I smiled and nodded, eager to see what he had in mind. The day we met, James’ birthday, he had taken me to get new clothes and then out to eat. Though the dresses weren’t really to my taste, they were pretty. The meal had shown me far more about him. Everyone gravitated toward James. The idea was confirmed even more at his birthday party. There were so many people, all there to celebrate James’ day.

Working for him over the past month had introduced me to so many new ideas and wonderful people. First he made my life better than ever with a great many new friends and a place I could truly call home again. Then he made me a better superhero. Unlike before, I knew how to really fight now, had my own costume, and even possessed an incredible weapon. None of this could have happened without James.

I couldn’t feel more fortunate to know him. He took two weeks to take me on our date, but things were going so well. We had some entertainment, and now we were going out to eat together like something out of a movie.

“Mila, please drive us to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce.” he instructed.

“Of course, master.” she replied.

I felt my grin grow wider. Ever since meeting James, I felt like I was living a dream, at least how people had described them to me. I knew James wasn’t a secret agent like I originally believed when I met him, but I still felt he had a great many similarities to the ones in movies. He was charming, skilled in many things, and perfectly brave when needed. He lived in a world filled with secrets and sought every day to use his craft to improve the lives of others. He carried no gun, but he was always armed. His magic could easily act as a more dangerous weapon than any gun if ever he needed one. Now this man of mystery was taking me to a place said to be mysterious by Jarod, one of the smartest people I knew.

When the restaurant came into view, I felt like jumping out before Mila even stopped the car. The building looked so unobtrusive with its shiny bricks. The sign was cheesily made with a smiley face surrounded by a galaxy off to the side of the restaurant’s name.

“You seem rather excited for someone who doesn’t need to eat.” he told me.

I was thankful as ever that Mila was supplying text for me, so I didn’t miss what he said while staring at the building. “I do still enjoy eating.” I informed him. “Plus, I’ve heard some pretty crazy things about this restaurant from Jarod. He told me that the rooms don’t make sense, like there’s some odd magic taking place when you enter. He also told me that he wouldn’t be surprised if criminals use this place for covert meetings, since overhearing conversations seems virtually impossible. How could I not be interested? We might stumble across drug dealers, mafia members, or some other shady types! I wonder if Maxine ate here while she was in town. I really wish I had my suit and Midnight, just in case.”

“Jarod does love this place as well, but I can’t say I’ve actually seen any evidence of criminal activity when I’ve been here before.” he insisted.

Unlike most people, James could easily afford to eat here often. Jarod probably hadn’t eaten here as often, but I knew Jarod did his research. James, as incredible as he was, did miss things. I sometimes wondered if he chose to miss things.

My mind went blank as the door opened, revealing a second sun setting over a purple ocean in the most spectacular way. I felt the gentle warmth of it on my skin as I followed James inside. As far as I could see was a beach and the ocean, stretching endlessly. The dark blue sand squished beneath my feet as I stepped on it. I wondered how all of this could possibly be in a restaurant, especially as I saw a well-dressed man nodding to us.

“Hello again, James. I’m Abdel, and I’ll be your host again this evening.” he told us.

With James in front of me and facing Abdel, I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I wouldn’t have realized he was even talking if his head hadn’t been turned as much as it was.

Nodding again, Abdel said, “If you would care to get changed, your assistant, Mila, warned us that you didn’t possess appropriate attire for our current theme, so feel free to get changed in the rooms just over there as I set your table. The current temperature might distract you from your meal, dressed as you are.”

I jogged over to the out-of-place structure, wondering what would be revealed to me inside. The doors were marked with the typical male and female symbols found outside of bathrooms, so I had no trouble knowing which to enter. There was also one with what looked like a showerhead.

At first, I was disappointed. The room was plain, simply hosting a bench and pole of clothing bags. I half-expected the room to have some sort of light show or other oddity when I was entering. I unzipped one of the bags and gaped. Was there an outfit split between the bags for some reason? This was barely more than underwear and a see-through top. Oh. Sandals too.

Opening the second bag, I realized what I was actually seeing: a bikini and something to wear over it when not swimming. I hadn’t been swimming for a long time, but I was sure James would help me if I couldn’t remember how. He didn’t have to worry about me drowning at least. I didn’t need air.

I quickly looked through the bags, wondering which swimming suit James would prefer. I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable in any of them. The one piece suit was tempting, just to cover more up, but James never minded my skin. If anything, he might enjoy it. Frowning, I thought of how Alma was nearly as white as me. Any whiter, and she’d be albino as well. Well, her hair and eyes wouldn’t work. After a month of seeing him look at her, I recognized his interest. If he could like someone as pale as she was despite her unnatural look, he could like someone as white as snow.

I chose the red bikini and the pink, knit shirt. We were on a date. This wasn’t a time to be timid. I smiled, certain that Alma would never wear something like this. Seeing that James wasn’t out yet when I finished changing, I ran with the sandals in hand, wanting to feel the strange sand beneath my feet. I could hardly believe the view. When I got to the edge of the water, I let a wave splash over my foot, hardly believing this was a restaurant.

The smell of the food called to me, and I took to the table, already anticipating the taste of the food. Where had the server gone? There was no sign of him. I couldn’t explain how the entrance seemed to be a free-floating door either. Maybe Jarod would tell me later.

I forced myself not to eat anything yet, taking a seat and putting on the sandals. When James finally emerged, I was happy to see he was ready to swim as well. I would’ve felt foolish had I been the only one to change clothes. I waved at him, anxious to spend more time with him.

As he ran over to me, I tried not to stare, but the movement of his muscles was yet another thing fit for a movie. I knew he was strong for a human, if he really was human, but I hadn’t seen him quite so bare before. I exhaled and smiled. There were guys, and then there was James.

“The ocean smells so real! I dipped my foot in just to see, and the water is real! How do they do this?” I asked the moment he was seated.

Shrugging, he said, “I have no clue. Aaliyah probably does. I believe she helped with some of the tech here.” He frowned slightly after mentioning her.

“That girl is amazing. I’m really glad I met you, James. Since I started working for you, I’ve met and helped so many interesting people! Well, not all of the helping is on the job, obviously, but being a best friend for people is pretty cool too.” I assured him.

James always worried, and I never thanked him enough. He might have frowned because he was worried that he mentioned another girl on our date, but I couldn’t care. He was here with me when there were so many beautiful girls in his house, and Aaliyah was far too young to be a rival despite her intelligence.

He smiled at me, and I instantly felt more at ease again.

“I’m glad you are doing well. I was honestly being a bit selfish when I started the business. My father wanted me to get a job, but I couldn’t think of anywhere with the flexibility and variety of work I desired. Then I decided to start my own business, and I wouldn’t be doing nearly as well with it if not for all of the help I’ve received.” he claimed, modest as ever.

“But you inspire people, James. Whenever I’m around you, I feel so… full of hope. I know the other girls feel it too. You’re not some average guy who just happened to get lucky. You’re amazing.” I insisted, reaching out and gently touching his hand.

He pulled back, frowning again. “Sorry.” he told me. “What you’re probably feeling is magic, actually.”

Having him pull away from me was discouraging, but having him worry about his gifts was so weird. Why did he treat his incredible abilities like a curse at times?

“I found out a while ago that my body absorbs residual energy and creates this sort of magical field which causes people to like me. I can’t control it. There’s no way for either of us to know if anything you feel around me is real or not.” he stated.

I stared into his eyes, still wondering why he seemed to be in pain. “You mentioned this before when we first met.” I reminded him.

He nodded.

With him being silent, I then said, “You’ve gotta be one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, but you let your abilities bother you too much.”

He stared into my eyes and I wondered what all he saw. There were times when James seemed to be delving into my soul. For all I knew, the feeling might be true. I smiled at him, trying to be reassuring.

“Well, you have to admit that sounds pretty lucky as things go. Vampires have to deal with finding a source of blood. Werewolves have to fight the urge to eat people. I have cold skin, which freaks guys out. You have to deal with everyone liking you.” I explained.

“I see your point, I guess, but aren’t you bothered by the idea that you’re forced to like me?” he asked, still looking upset.

I took a bite of my food, some sort of incredible chicken dish. The taste was too amazing to keep from smiling even if I wanted to try. James was worrying himself far too much, especially here. “How can I be bothered by liking my date when we’re eating on a beach during sunset?” I asked.

He nodded. I wished he would smile again, but I was glad he wasn’t frowning. We talked idly as we enjoyed our meal. The food here was easily as good as Marco’s, which was a feat by itself. Had Marco helped the chefs here as well? This past month had spoiled me more than I would’ve thought possible before coming here. I felt guilty at times, knowing there were people struggling for food out there when I ate incredible meals daily and didn’t even need food to survive. Emma couldn’t be everywhere to make the vegetables, and Marco couldn’t be everywhere to make the meals. We needed to do our best with what we have, and today I was fortunate. Not eating would only disappoint Marco, and I was making a difference in this city.

When we finished eating, I said, “Ready for a swim?”

“Huh?” he asked, looking surprised.

I took off the knit shirt, placing it on the back of the chair. “Swimming. Why get dressed like this if we’re not going to enjoy this exotic ocean?” I asked, nodding toward the water.

“Oh. Yes. I suppose we can.” he replied, looking nervous.

“Can’t swim?” I asked with a grin.

“What? Of course, I can swim.” he stated.

“Then come on!” I exclaimed, interrupting whatever else he was going to say and pulling him toward the water.

The water felt wonderful, but I was surprised by the lack of salt. There was no sting when some got in my eyes. I supposed they weren’t trying for authenticity, not with purple water and blue sand. The feel of the waves was plenty authentic for me, and being able to swim alone with James was amazing.

He eventually started to suggest we should leave, but I just dove back into the water. He knew I couldn’t hear him, so I didn’t know why he tried telling me such things. He needed more fun! If he had been serious about needing to leave, he wouldn’t have followed me back into the water, so I knew he was just being overly cautious.

I swam to the shore when I spotted someone odd. A very old looking man wearing robes like some sort of wizard was walking toward us. He took his time making his way across the sand, but he seemed plenty strong to me, especially for someone so obviously elderly. There was a confident ease to his stride that made him seem quite capable.

“Sorry to interrupt, but Aaliyah just called and informed me that you’re going to be late for your practice with Alma if you don’t leave in the next seven minutes.” stated the man when he reached us.

Turning to James, I asked “Why didn’t you tell me you had practice tonight? I don’t want to make you late!” I then ran to use the shower next to the changing rooms.

I didn’t quite trust Alma yet, especially alone with James, but I was aware that she was powerful. She was far faster, stronger, and more knowledgeable than me. If she was willing to instruct James, keeping him from the lessons was criminal. Before meeting James, I wouldn’t have thought of such a thing as criminal, but I realized now what a difference instruction could make. My world was expanding a little more each day, and a better me would exist tomorrow to give back to the world.

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Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 194

I bumped my coffee, knocking it over as I reached for the radio. Sighing, I started cleaning it up. I was later than usual for lunch already, and the coffee had gone cold. I’d just pick up a new one when I picked up my sandwich. While still trying to wipe up the coffee, a call came over the radio. Someone was injured just two blocks from me. Lunch would wait. I told the dispatcher that I was on my way, not wanting some rookie to get caught up in the affairs of the triangle. Dangerous neighborhood.

When I arrived, there was someone in a too-large, black hoodie kneeling over what hopefully was the victim and not a new body. The man in the hoodie turned, and I knew something was off. He was perfectly clean-shaven, had well-groomed hair, and his shoes looked expensive. He was also young, probably a teenager. I knelt down by him and told the man on the ground to sit tight. Possible broken arm and leg. No bleeding. Nothing I could do that wouldn’t just hinder the paramedics when they arrived.

“Mind telling me what happened here?” I asked.

“Oh. No, sir. I was just walking by when this man fell, landing here pretty much as you see him.” explained the kid, his accent further betraying that he didn’t belong around here.

“He fell? Tripped and broke his arm and leg?” I asked.

Shaking his head, he said, “No. From up there somewhere. I’m not precisely sure how high he was, since I didn’t see him until he screamed. He was still in mid-air, so I came running over.”

I looked up and didn’t see any broken windows, though there were a couple open. Was our “victim” trying to jump between windows? If so, why? He was lucky he didn’t end up even worse for wear.

“Mind if I take down your information? Name, date of birth, phone, etc.” I told the boy.

“Oh. Sure.” he replied before listing off his information.

I wrote everything down in my notepad for my report. “Thanks, James. You’re free to go. I’ll take care of him from here.” I assured him. I’d love to know what his story was. What brought him to this neighborhood? I was sure he had his reasons, but this type of place wasn’t safe for a kid like him.

As James walked off, I started questioning the man on the ground. I didn’t want him to pass out for one, and I was very interested in what he was doing that led to his fall. He wasn’t very coherent and probably had a concussion. The ambulance arrived before I asked too much, but I was betting his fall didn’t come about simply from goofing off.

I wasn’t even back to my car yet when another call came over the radio. Robbery just down the street. Did someone miss the flashing lights over here, or was I supposed to be too busy to respond? Someone replied to the dispatcher just before me and went flying past as I stepped into my car. I sighed, knowing the voice. Pat. Good kid, but he had a lot to learn still.

Another police car sped past. I followed. Seeing someone in a red hoodie running remarkably fast, I knew where Pat was going. He’d forget about checking for injured, accomplices, or anything else. The figure in the red hood had been acting as a vigilante for months now. Rumor was that he had a fancier costume now, so why the red hoodie again? Did we have multiple vigilantes running through the streets? Possible, but unlikely. Considering some of the people we’ve found tied up, the person was incredibly tough.

The car in front of me was quick to pull over. Peterson stepped out. He had enough experience to know what he was doing.

I slowed down, looking around. A silver DB5 had parked across from the shop, looking completely out of place. The owner perhaps? I was somewhat tempted to follow Pat and keep him out of trouble. I shook my head as I noticed James standing next to a man who was probably the shopkeeper by the uniform. The altercation was over, and I knew Peterson would be able to cuff the man on the ground easily enough without me. James seemed to have the man on the ground secured. Still, this was the scene of the crime, and the person in the hoodie had never injured an officer.

Wanting to hear what James’ story was now, I parked behind Peterson’s car. Peterson was already frisking the robber and had a firearm off the man.

“James, right? This just isn’t your lucky day, is it.” I stated. “Any idea who that guy in the red hoodie was, James?”

He shook his head and said, “Not a clue, sir. The whole thing happened in a flash. One moment, the robber there was stepping out of the store, and the next moment, the guy was taping up his hands.”

His blue eyes stared into mine, daring me to doubt him, but he seemed a bit nervous. Most people would be nervous this close to an armed robbery, but James didn’t seem to have a problem holding the man down.

“That’s what I saw too, sir.” claimed the shopkeeper.

Peterson had removed the robber from the scene as we were talking and came back.

“Would you mind showing Officer Peterson any surveillance footage you have?” I asked.

He nodded.

I waited for them to go inside before asking “Did you get a look at the guy in the red hoodie, James?”

“No, sir. Things happened too fast. Sorry. I was still mulling over what happened down the street when this fell in my lap. As you implied, this just isn’t my day.” he replied.

I nodded, though I still felt something was off about him, so I asked “You don’t really look like you’re from around here. Do you come this way often?”

“No. I just happened to be in the area today. I can’t imagine I’ll come this way again though. Things are a bit too wild for my tastes.” he explained.

Pulling out a card, I said, “Well, here’s my card. Give me a call if you remember anything else. Oh, and I didn’t get your address earlier. Mind writing it down for me?” I asked. I handed over my notepad with a pen. There was something about James that made me feel he was a good kid, but I really wanted to know how he ended up here today.

When he handed back my notepad, I looked to find he had written down an address. If he actually lived at the address, his parents had to be well off. I couldn’t afford to live in Naperhill.

“Thanks again, James. Take care of yourself.” I told him.

To my surprise, he crossed the street and hopped into the DB5. Where was the driver? Was the car his? If so, who was he? I quickly wrote down the license plate. Then I did a search on my phone for the price of his car. My jaw dropped. Who was he?

After I helped Peterson wrap things up, I ran James’ license plate. He was the registered owner. I called in my lunch break and looked up James’ name online. Turned out that he owns a business called Best Friend For Hire. If someone from the triangle had hired him, there was dirty money involved. Some of the suggested rates listed on Best Friend For Hire’s website were up there, especially for James himself.

My phone rang before I could look at anymore. I didn’t recognize the number but answered. As the Superintendent of Police announced himself, explained that he was informed I ran James’ plate, and directly ordered me to drop any investigation into James Michael Somerset III, I found myself wondering yet again who that kid is. He certainly had friends in high places.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 193

“Let us off here.” I ordered, not wanting to get too close to the triangle yet. Turning to James, I said, “I know Mila can take care of herself, but we’d stick out like a sore thumb in such a fancy car. Probably should do something about your clothing as well.”

James nodded, but seemed lost in thought. Then he shivered as if the cold just cut through his clothes.

“Oh! If you’re cold, we can get you a hoodie like mine. No offense, but even your hair is a bit too clean cut for this area.” I warned him.

“So says the girl with perfect white hair and skin.” he teased.

Grinning, I said, “Thank you! You wouldn’t believe how paranoid I’ve been about it lately. Everyone at your place is so beautiful. I sometimes wonder if you even notice me.”

I hadn’t meant to admit quite that much, but I was flying high on James’ compliment.

“There is a thrift shop just ahead on the right, master, if you do wish to change.” stated Mila as she displayed text for me to read. She also displayed a map for us, showing where we were and the simple path to take. “I’ll remain here and care for anything you wish to take off.”

“Okay. Thank you, Mila.” replied James just before stepping out.

If he said anything else, she didn’t show me, so I quickly hopped out of the car to follow him. His long strides carried him quickly ahead, but I kept up easily enough, half-jogging at times to close the gap.

I knew this store, having passed it numerous times. A sense of nostalgia swept of me as I looked around. Not so long ago, I came to stores like this relatively often, needing the cheapest clothes I could get when my clothes were too badly damaged to patch up.

“Oh! Try this on!” I exclaimed, noticing a very colorful, Hawaiian-style shirt. I didn’t really want James to buy it, but I wanted to see him in it.

He agreed, sliding the shirt over his own before looking in the mirror.

I grinned as I watched him. He looked so ridiculous. “I think that might make you stick out even worse!” I teased, helping him out of the shirt.

I found several more obnoxiously bright shirts for him to try, and I love how he smiled as he tried each. He seemed to be enjoying himself. Then he found a gigantic, black hoodie. I wondered how wide the previous owner was when the hoodie hung loosely on James.

“I’ll just get this.” he told me as he examined himself.

I wanted to stop him, suggesting anything else to have a bit more fun, but I shrugged instead. The hoodie hid his expensive shirt and hung low enough to cover the brand of his jeans. If he was happy with how he looked, I couldn’t argue.

“Let’s just hope no one looks too hard at your feet. Since I don’t recognize that brand, it’s gotta be expensive.” I cautioned.

James smiled and shrugged. He knew what his clothes were like. As I walked toward the triangle, he followed. I tried thinking of something to say, but he started texting before I managed to come up with something he’d find interesting. When he looked up again, he seemed startled, glancing over his shoulder and back in front of him quickly. I walked ahead, glancing back to make sure he was following again. He was.

How did this place look to James? He lived in such an enormous, well-kept house in a beautiful neighborhood. What did he think of people who lived like this? Did he realize that an area similar to this is where he would have found me a year ago?

I stopped, glancing back at him as he tapped my shoulder.

Pointing, he said, “I just heard glass break. I think from over there.”

I nodded. I would have glanced down the alley anyway, but now I knew someone was probably there. I frowned and turned down the alley after seeing a large man on the ground. James fell behind when I turned off, but he hurried to catch up now. I quickly moved to catch him as he slipped.

Seeing that the man was still breathing, I started feeling the man’s pockets, looking for a wallet. James tapped my shoulder again, so I turned toward him.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Finding out where he lives.” I replied. “How else are we going to get him home?”

“But what if he’s injured? Should we get him to a hospital?” asked James as I pulled a wallet from the guy’s back pocket.

“Most of the people in this area don’t want to end up in a hospital for anything minor. He probably just slipped like you. Can’t you smell the alcohol?” I asked.

There was even part of a bottle still in the man’s hand. Having seen his address on the ID in the wallet, I slipped Louis’ wallet back into his pocket and lifted him up. James looked surprised.

“Care to give me a hand?” I asked him.

He nodded and hunched down to put Louis’ arm over his shoulders as I had done. James struggled a bit as we walked the block, readjusting his position several times. Being that tall apparently was a disadvantage at times like this.

When we reached the right address, I knocked on the door. An older woman answered the door, probably Louis’ grandmother.

“Oh! What happened to my Louis?” she asked.

I glanced over to James, but he was already talking. I couldn’t really see what he was saying past Louis.

The woman shook her head, looking glum as she looked at Louis. What had James told her?

Motioning to follow her, she said, “Well, get him in here. Good Lord knows we don’t want the neigh-…”

I had no idea what she was saying now that her back was to us, but I followed till she stopped and pointed at the couch. I followed James’ lead positioning Louis on the couch. A young boy came running into the room, staring at Louis the moment he was in the room.

“Is he dead?” asked the boy.

I shook my head as the lady seemed to be saying something.

Turning to us, she then said, “Well, you two sit right there, and I’ll dish you up some pie. Louis will want to thank you when he comes around.”

I nodded and took a seat, not wanting to offend her. I tried not to laugh when I noticed how uncomfortable James seemed. Had he ever been in a house this small? I wondered what he would have done if the place wasn’t as well-kept, somewhat of a rarity in neighborhoods like this.

The lady came back with two plates and handed me one, saying, “Here you are. Now I baked that myself. Bought…” She turned to walk around over to James, leaving me clueless as to what she was saying. She smiled wide after giving James his plate. Looking surprised, she said, “Oh, heavens, I forgot to introduce myself. My name’s Edna. Now who might you be?”

“James. Meeting you is a pleasure.” he told her, holding up his hand to shake.

I quickly set down my plate as Louis moved. Standing and touching his shoulder, I said, “Easy. You hit your head.”

He stared up at me and said, “Are you an angel?”

I smiled, having had this happen before. “You’re home.” I assured him.

“Gran-gran?” he asked.

I turned to see if she responded.

“Who else would be in our house taking care of our guests?” she asked.

I backed up, so I could see them both more easily.

“What happened? Who are you two?” he asked.

“Sorry. I’m James.” replied James, holding out his hand again.

“I’m Portentia. We found you in the alley back there.” I explained.

“Alley?” he asked.

“You drunk fool.” stated Edna.

“Drunk? Nah, gran-gran. I was buying you more eye medicine. Smell my breath.” he told her.

“I can smell you from here.” she stated.

James quickly said, “He was on top of a shattered bottle.”

“I didn’t smell anything on his breath.” I assured her.

“Oh. Now that’s a good boy. You sit there, and I’ll get you a slice of pie.” she told him.

“Thanks for getting me back. Sorry if gran-gran’s pushing you around.” he told us. Looking to the door, he said, “What kind of question is that? Boy, you better learn yourself some manners!”

I looked to the doorway to see the young boy smiling.

“Portentia’s deaf. That’s why she often signs thing as she speaks.” explained James.

“Care to learn something?” I asked.

He grinned at me and said, “Sure!”

Demonstrating as I spoke, I told him “This is how you say ‘grandmother’ in sign language.”

“My word, aren’t you just precious.” stated Edna as she walked in with Louis’ pie.

Not much later, James and I were playing board games with them. Edna insisted, saying that James and I might keep her grandsons honest. The game took quite a while and we all ended up in the poor farm, but James seemed to be having fun. Despite Louis wanting another game, James and I excused ourselves when Edna left for work. We had more to do out there!

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 192

The door opened as I reached for it. That sort of thing happened frequently around here when Mila was being helpful. I realized I was even luckier this time as I saw James. He was home!

“James, we have to talk!” I exclaimed, signing quickly as I spoke.

“What’s the matter?” he asked as he looked down to me.

He always made me feel so tiny next to him with his broad soldiers and greater than average height.

“The matter?” I asked. “What would be the matter? It’s not like I’ve been waiting two weeks for the date you promised only to find out that you went out with her instead as soon as you were free.”

Alma said something to him. She didn’t seem to be very happy either, running off with her incredible speed. I still wasn’t used to someone moving that fast.

“Umm… I think I hear my daddy…” started Aaliyah, turning before I could catch all of it. She had followed James and Alma inside. After a couple steps, she turned back to face me. Then she signed and said, “By the way, why are you in your hoodie?”

I fidgeted as I replied “Oh. I was getting frustrated waiting, and thought I might bump into James if I was out on patrol.”

“What happened to your other outfit?” she asked with wide-eyed innocence.

“I sorta lost part of it when Maxine hit me with a missile.” I explained.

She face-palmed before saying, “You’re not supposed to let missiles hit you, silly. If I were you, I’d ask Mila to print you a new outfit. See ya!”

New outfit!? I turned to James, grabbed his hands to get his attention, and asked “Was she being serious? Mila can do that?”

He shrugged said, “Mila ,are you capable of printing a superhero outfit for Portentia?”

Appearing on a nearby mirror, Mila signed as she said, “Oh, master. I would have no idea what you’re speaking about, though I do have a design in my database for Calamity’s outfit, strictly for cosplay purposes, of course. I think Portentia would be able to fit into it if she wished to cosplay as the city’s greatest superhero.”

James was saying something back to her, but he had turned to face her, blocking my sight. Oh! Mila was transcribing again.

“Are you saying she’s not the only one?” he had asked.

“If there are others, none have been successful enough to catch my attention, but I don’t claim to know everything.” she insisted.

I’d argue on her behalf. Mila certain seemed to know everything when asked. She wouldn’t always tell what she knew, but she knew.

“Please, get started with it!” I pleaded, nearly bouncing in my excitement. “I’ll put off going on patrol until after my date with James.”

I never dreamed getting a new outfit could be that easy. If only they could be as durable as me. Noticing Mila frowning, I felt a moment of unease.

“As you wish, but don’t let the master forget he still owes me a date as well, though I’m not quite ready for it.” she insisted.

I snapped my mouth shut, realizing it had dropped open. Then I turned to James and asked “You’re going on a date with Mila? James, why didn’t you tell me!?”

He seemed to be thinking too hard about what to say.

“Ugh. Now I’ll really have to show you that I’m more fun.” I insisted, grabbing his hand and pulling him back through the door.

Was I though? Mila was incredible. She was beyond incredible. I had no doubts she’d come up with some incredible date specifically designed for their needs.

James tugged back, so I stopped and looked at him.

“Are you sure you want to do this right now?” he asked. “I’m not entirely certain that I’m even done babysitting Aaliyah for the day.”

He quickly pulled out his phone to check.

I said, “She’s gone, so you must be. I have to grab you before you promise ten other girls dates before me. You’re not forgiven for giving Alma a date first.”

“Actually, I owed Alma a dress, since one of hers was ruined when she was helping me.” he stated.

I stared up into his eyes. He seemed to be perfectly sincere… When he wasn’t teasing someone, he was usually sincere. He was a good person.

Grinning, I said, “Sorry! I should’ve known better than to have doubted you. I’m still questioning this date with Mila. How is that even supposed to work?” I couldn’t get past the part where Mila was stuck in mirrors and phones.

He shrugged and told me “I have no idea, but she cornered me into it. Mila’s extremely bright.”

I nodded and pulled him forward again. “I know!” I assured him. “I’ve spent enough time watching Jarod and her talk to realize that they’re amazing.”

“So… what do you do with Jarod?” he asked, trying to be casual.

Was he jealous? I tried not to grin as I said, “Just hang out and talk about ways to stop Maxine, really. I’m not into him, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Why are we walking?” he suddenly asked.

“Sorry. Are you cold?” I inquired. “I can’t really help with that. I don’t get cold, so I generally don’t think about it.”

“No. I dressed for the weather when I left this morning. I merely meant that we could be taking my car.” he explained.

“I don’t have one of those either, so that’s not the first thing that comes to mind. I have borrowed Mila a few times when she’s free. You don’t mind, do you?” I asked, feeling embarrassed by asking after the fact. Mila always seemed fine with the idea, and she was actually reliable, unlike most cars.

James laughed and said, “No, not at all. She needs to be kept entertained, so she doesn’t end up finding trouble.”

I found myself wondering if Mila’s idea of a date involved her using the car to be out with James, but I quickly said, “Thank you! You wouldn’t believe how difficult hiding the fist off maxine’s machine was. If not for Mila, I wouldn’t have managed getting it all the way here.”

James put his phone to his ear and said, “Mila, could you give us a lift?” After a moment, he looked down to me and said, “Mila’s bringing the car.”

I nodded and said, “I know. I was watching.”

Mila would never turn James down. Her admiration of him was obvious whenever we talked about him. She could seem so… human. I found myself wondering again what I was. I never really had this problem before. Meeting Alma changed things. She forced me to consider that I might not really be human. Most people certainly couldn’t keep up with me, and they certainly didn’t heal as I do.

James waved to get my attention before asking “So what do you have planned for this date of ours?”

“Huh?” I asked, blinking. “You don’t have anything planned?”

He sighed before saying, “Of course not. I didn’t realize we were doing this today.

I shrugged and admitted “I guess I just thought you’d have done some planning already. You had two weeks. Don’t worry though. Let’s just go down to the triangle and roam around.”

“Sorry, but I’m not familiar with that area. What’s ‘the triangle’?” he asked.

“It’s a bit of a slum, really. I’ve been trying to clean up the streets some now that Maxine’s not keeping me busy. Since you don’t have plans for us, I figure we might as well check if anyone needs some help today.” I explained.

He nodded and seemed to get lost in thought again, standing there silently. He never seemed to understand how incredibly handsome he was. One way or another, I was going to show him a good time.

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 187

“Aren’t you going to take it apart?” asked Portentia, looking as if she was ready to rip the giant, metal fist apart with her bare hands to see what was inside.

“Eventually, sure.” I assured her. “I’m going to have Mila scan it first for explosives, tracking devices, et cetera. Don’t want to risk breaking anything, and a tracking device might be useful if there is one.”

“Aren’t you worried about her tracking it here?” asked James.

I nearly sighed, but instead said, “Ha. You’re joking, right?” He, of all people, should realize that we take jobs from all sorts of clients. Explaining away the hand would be easy if Maxine came peacefully and somehow managed to find her way down here. As I looked between him and Portentia, they obviously weren’t thinking things through, so I told them “Imagine what Alma would do if Maxine tried to start something here. Besides, the estate’s defense system is absolutely incredible from the little I’ve seen, and no signal’s getting out of here in any case.”

James pulled out his phone and looked at it. Then he turned it to me and said, “I think elevators block signals better, Jarod.”

He had full bars? “Oh. Mila’s probably relaying it as she does for mine.” I told him, realizing she probably did that automatically for him.

“No, I’m not.” she replied. “In fact, I can’t even find a signal coming from his phone. The princess must have installed some technology I don’t understand in it.”

I smirked, turned back to James, and asked “You say an elevator blocked your reception?”

He nodded, saying, “Yeah. When Portentia, Alma, and I got stuck in that elevator at convention.”

I barked a laugh before telling him “I have the strangest feeling that Aaliyah chose to ignore you for some reason.”

James looked shocked at first, but his expression quickly changed to consideration.

“Maybe we should take a look at your phone instead.” I suggested.

“But… but the fist!” exclaimed Portentia, sounding exasperated. “Who knows what we can get out of it! You might be able to find some weakness in her suit or find some way to hack it. You’re the tech master!”

I felt for her as she was practically pleading, but I couldn’t help rolling my eyes before explaining “More than likely, I’ll just see the finger mechanisms and possibly a weapon of some sort. I really doubt she conveniently placed something in the fist to reveal her secrets. However, being able to transmit a signal that can penetrate this garage could have many uses.”

Seeing Portentia’s disappointment saddened me, but there was nothing I could do about the truth.

“Master, I don’t recommend examining your phone too closely. The princess is superb at keeping her secrets, and she keeps them very well.” insisted Mila.

“Yeah, she’s right.” I agreed. “I really wish Aaliyah would share more of her tech, but I can’t really complain to her when she does so much for us already. Oh well. So what’s this job you’ve hired me for?”

“I missed part of that. What job?” asked Portentia.

James looked between Portentia and I before turning to her and saying, “I’ve hired Jarod for the next few hours. Sorry, but there are a few things we need to do.”

“Oh. Okay.” stated Portentia glumly. “Promise to tell me what you find when you get around to examining the fist?” she asked, looking into my eyes.

I nodded and vowed “I promise. I’ll even give you the details if you want.”

She rolled her eyes and shook her head as she said, “Yeah. As if that ever does any good.” Turning to James, she told him “Be sure to hire me next time. You know I’m a great listener!”

He laughed and said, “I never doubt that you’re paying attention. Sorry for stealing Jarod away. I’ll try to make it up to you soon.”

Grinning and grabbing his hands, she told him “It’s a date!” Then she spun around inhumanly fast and skipped to the lift.

“I’d call that another win for Portentia today.” I stated, watching her head up the lift. “Tired of your endless string of girls yet?”

“Asks the guy who seems to be playing with the twins.” he retorted.

“I’m not playing with them. We’re going to start dating.” I admitted.

“Which one?” he asked.

“Don’t know. Can’t tell them apart.” I replied.

James’ look of disbelief was incredibly amusing. Surely he figured out that the twins were telepathic by now. Didn’t he? Well, they were more than telepathic. They shared each other’s feelings. When I had nearly stopped the heart of one, the other felt it as if it were her own heart. The two weren’t physically conjoined, but they certainly were mentally.

James was just staring at me for a while. He eventually asked “That doesn’t bother you at all?”

“Should it?” I teased.

“Jarod! They’re two different girls! You know you’ll have to figure out which is which and pick one to date, right? As close as they are, there’s no way they’d want to share you.” he claimed.

He really didn’t know. I shrugged and said, “I offered to implant chips into their arms, but they refused. Not my fault if they don’t want me to know who I’m speaking to at any given moment. Relax. Breathe. If things get serious, I’m sure Ai will figure something out without forgetting Mai feelings.” I did my best to emphasize their names as a joke, but he still seemed worried.

“Okay.” he replied. “Just be careful. I don’t want any of you getting hurt over this, and you know those two can really hurt.”

“Did they tell you I managed to make Ai’s heart skip a beat the first time we sparred?” I asked.

“As I recall, you nearly killed her by stopping her heart.” he stated quite seriously.

“Yeah, but her heart still skipped a beat.” I replied with a shrug. If I hadn’t come that close to killing her, our relationship probably wouldn’t have progressed at all. The twins were significantly beyond humans, and I needed to be their equal, despite my humanity, to warrant attention.

James seemed to be considering what I said all too seriously. What was eating at him now?

“So I’m sure you didn’t hire me to talk about my budding romance. What’s up?” I asked.

“Want to take me for a spin? I haven’t seen your Mustang in a while.” he suggested.

“Sure, but my boss makes me charge for gas.” I teased.

“Well, you’re a best friend for hire, not for free. Losing money on a job would be silly.” he replied, still serious.

“So would be charging gas money on an electric car.” I retorted. “You haven’t gotten a ride since I reworked the old girl.”

He followed as I started walking to the lift. I fought the urge to let him take the lead. I still didn’t understand why being in front of him always had bothered me, but it did. Everyone always looked to James, including me.

“Don’t expect too much.” I cautioned. “I don’t have Mila incorporated into the Mustang or any of the digital works you have. I honestly haven’t decided what all I want yet. Aaliyah provided me with a power source when I inquired about buying one. No charge even. That’s another problem with my first suit. I haven’t figured out a good way to power it yet. Got it running with a power line at the moment. I wish Portentia could have cut that out of Maxine’s monster. I was really tempted to stick the power source Aaliyah gave me in there, but Mila would probably rat me out.”

“Would not!” she exclaimed indignantly.

“Sorry, Mila!” I apologized. “We both know she’d find out somehow though.”

James laughed, finally loosening up again. I felt as if tension just left the air, like I had finally started breathing again without knowing I held my breath. I mean, I hadn’t been, but the feeling was similar.

James seemed to be appraising my baby as he walked around her. Then he hopped in her like he had hundreds of times before. We spent so many hours together working on this car, and I still sometimes felt shocked that James was my best friend. Everyone wanted to spend time with him, but he chose me for some reason.

I eased us back out of the garage as I considered where to go.

“Whoa. You didn’t shift. Did you disconnect the stick without removing it?” asked James, sounding shocked.

“Yes and no.” I replied. “You see, I cheated a bit on your Aston Martin. Mila handles the transition between gears to smooth things out. The torque from my engine is enough to seriously damage things if there’s any misalignment, so I felt more comfortable with an outrageous computer handling it. For this, I decided I really didn’t need as much top speed, although I gained some back from a lighter car, so there’s no shifting. The shifter now controls the noises the car emits through the speakers to simulate a combustion engine. Pretty sweet, huh?”

“Yeah. You’re amazing as ever.” he insisted. “Wow. Sorry that I didn’t help out at all.”

I grinned at his sincere apology. “Don’t sweat it. I know you’re busy. Besides, I have a great job, an awesome place to live, and some cool new friends thanks to you.” I explained. “Things are going great for both of us, so relax. You stress way too much.”

He nodded, but still seemed to be stressing out. What could possibly be tearing him up this badly?

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 186

<Are they here yet?> I asked again, signing to Mila. I wasn’t sure how many times I had asked already, nor could I really care. I was bouncing with excitement, having fought off Maxine and taken a trophy off her suit.

<They’re almost up the drive.> she replied. < I should warn you that James and Jarod both have plans, so they won’t have long to hear you out.>

<They always have plans. If James worked anymore frequently, he wouldn’t sleep.> I insisted. I already wasn’t sure how he found the time. He wasn’t like me, so he needed his sleep.

<Don’t worry. I monitor his sleep cycle to ensure he receives adequate rest each day.> she assured me as if reading my thoughts.

I nodded, trusting Mila’s judgement. She knew a great many things that I didn’t, some of which she couldn’t reveal to me. I still wondered at times how I became so lucky to have such a home. The answer was always James, of course. Without him, none of this would have happened. He was such an incredible person, and I needed to get his attention before he slipped away tonight.

<Turn around.> ordered Mila, vanishing from the mirror.

I spun to find James stepping into the house. “James!” I exclaimed. “We need to talk. Is Jarod with you?”

He watched as Alma walked off, and then opened his mouth to say something.

Before he could answer, I saw Jarod stepping in with one of the twins holding his arm. The other twin and their brother followed. Jarod was saying something, but I missed it.

“Jarod! I need to show you something.” I insisted. “Are you free?” I asked, hoping that his plans weren’t starting immediately. Mila implied they weren’t.

“Jarod will be indisposed all night.” claimed the girl on his arm.

The other twin was saying something as well, but I couldn’t see her well enough past the others to know what exactly. I didn’t bother looking around to see if Mila transcribed what she said. They rarely spoke without harassing someone, so they were probably just teasing me. I became slightly more interested when I noticed Duncan looking startled by what was said.

“No, I don’t. I haven’t even finished healing from the last match.” he was insisting.

I hoped they weren’t trying to get him to fight me. With him already injured, I might hurt him too much.

The girl who was on Jarod’s arm had turned around to bug her brother. Duncan was quick to remove her hand, but I couldn’t see him speak past her head. Didn’t anyone understand this was important? I needed James and Jarod! The twins started hugging one another and staring at their brother. What were they doing now?

As they turned around to grab Jarod, they said, “Jarod, please save us from our perverted brother!”

What!? Those two had to be half villain. I felt sorry for their brother. Jarod seemed to be saying something, but I couldn’t see what now. I was running out of patience. I needed him to come see what I had before he was forced to leave. The girls seemed to be fighting over Jarod, pulling him back and forth between them. James was turned, watching the exchange. Was I really going to lose my chance here? No. I needed to do something. I started to formulate a plan of attack when everyone suddenly looked off to the side. I turned to see Alma there, serene as ever.

For once, I was quite glad to see her when I realized she had called off the twins and their brother. The three followed her away, leaving Jarod and James with me! She might be part saint after all.

Someone touched my shoulder, so I turned to find Jarod looking at me.

“What’s so urgent? I have half an hour before a job James hired me for, something rather vague I might add.” he informed me, signing as he spoke.

His sign language wasn’t perfect yet, but he was sweet for bothering to learn at all.

“I have part of her suit!” I exclaimed, finally getting to tell them.

“What?” they both asked in surprise.

“While you were out being duped at the villain’s party, I was fighting her. Well, I was too late at most of the scenes, but I got some help from a friend getting to the last one. I didn’t manage to stop her from breaking in, but I did take her arm and send her running!” I explained. Mila didn’t want me to mention her aid yet. She seemed concerned about how James would take it.

“Maxine was actually there the whole time.” stated James.

Nodding, Jarod said, “She must have an accomplice or some clever type of control system.”

I hadn’t considered that she might not actually be in the suit.

“So where’s the piece?” he asked.

I smiled and said, “In the garage, of course. I wanted you to be able to work on it.”

I started walking that way and explaining how the fight went. Jarod seemed impressed by the lasers, but I insisted that they were nothing compared with my staff, Midnight. Dodging missiles was pretty intense, but I related what happened as best as I could up until we arrived. James, noticing the fist, immediately knelt down to look at it. He was interested! I hadn’t been sure with how impassive he seemed as I told my tale. Maybe he was spending too much time with Alma.

James jumped when we started descending into Jarod’s work area.

“There’s a subfloor?” he asked, looking around.

I didn’t know how to take him not being aware. How could he not have known? I missed most of what Jarod was saying, but he just seemed to be explaining what was down here to James.

“Whose is this?” asked James as he walked over to the old Volkswagen that was being repaired.

“Oh. Brandon asked for an oil change the other day, and I noticed some other problems. This is a 1987 Silver Volkswagen Quantum Syncro Wagon. Bit old, but it’s in reasonably good shape now. I just have a bit more that I want to do to it.” explained Jarod.

“I have no idea how you find time to do anything.” replied James, looking completely sincere.

“I actually have more room in my schedule than you on most days.” insisted Jarod. “I had Mila give me an analysis on a whim one day. Hey, Mila, would you mind moving this over by my suit?”

I knew Jarod had been constructing a suit as well, but I hadn’t seen it in action yet. Well, I hadn’t seen it at all. He was keeping the whole project hidden. I missed part of what they were saying, but Mila was transcribing for me on the far wall.

James had asked “Is your suit behind the sheets?”

Then Jarod told him “Nah. That’s a little project for Mila. It’s not ready yet. My first suit’s straight ahead, though I doubt I’ll be using that too much.”

“Oh? Why’s that?” asked James.

“I was mulling over a new idea during the… umm… auction. The problem with a suit like Maxine’s or my first one is that they’re too bulky. Even if I figure out the power supply, I couldn’t use the suit in many parts of the city without risking collateral damage like Maxine constantly causes. I was reading up on some tech the other day that could potentially replace muscle for electronic arms. Thinking through the tech used in creating a cyborg, I’ve realized I might be able to make a less intrusive interface to communicate our thoughts to a durable fabric that could enhance our strength by acting as additional, external muscle while also providing support to save our joints.” explained Jarod.

“The general idea is nice, but that’ll take a bunch of research and development if it’s possible.” insisted James.

With a shrug, Jarod said, “I think I can manage. Thanks to Aaliyah, we have access to resources that most people don’t. Plus, my assistant is top notch, right Mila?”

“Not having to sleep does have its advantages, but I am still learning a great deal from you.” she replied.

“The biggest part I’ll need your help with, James, is finding a way to enhance the design with magic.” stated Jarod.

James stared at him, looking surprised.

Jarod smiled as he said, “I know you have a ways to go, but Ai and Mai don’t know how to enchant things like Midnight there. Alma, if she does, hasn’t been interested in aiding in my endeavors. For now, there are some spells that Mila’s chosen from her database which should give temporary boons.”

“I’ll try, but I have a long ways to go.” replied James.

I was growing impatient again. Yes, everything said was important enough. Jarod could come act as my sidekick if he finished any sort of suit to help him keep up, but we had something important to do at the moment! Weren’t they interested in what was in the mechanical hand?

Best Friend For Hire Reprise, Entry 173

My sisters were completely disrespectful, dragging me out to all manner of places and treating this Jarod as if he were worthy of our company. I never had imagined that they’d fall so far as to openly display affection for a human. Mother was not going to be pleased.

I glanced at Jarod, disgusted by how he showed tiredness on his face after a mere night of frivolity. He couldn’t keep up with them, and I would never approve of my sisters dating beneath themselves, even if he could make them smile.

He also proved quite skilled at dancing and had a talent for languages. I wished I could get a close look at his engine design to see if his work actually did deserve the merit its price suggested.

James’ work, odd as it was, earned the respect of Lady Pendreigh. When I left my home, I was still surprised that she would move to this country, even temporarily, but meeting James showed me a man of great worth. He was obviously well-bred but made his own fortune, enough to have such a garish home. The computer, Mila, was astounding. My family’s companies couldn’t match her software, and I could only imagine the processing power behind such a machine. Mother would be most interested. My sisters told us far too little.

I followed them into the gymnasium at the front of the wing they rented from James. He was there, already making his employees train despite the early hour. They all seemed most capable, showing good form as they followed his instruction. Noticing us, he approached.

“James, nii-san was curious how soon you’d be awake, since he was interested in sampling one of Marco’s breakfasts.” stated one of my sisters.

I still grew irritated that they never bothered letting me know which was which. Despite mother’s intentions, I knew the connection between them made the two inseparable. Feeling everything the other did made any intimacy shared. There could be no secrets between them. They should show me respect enough to at least reveal to whom I was speaking when we did meet. If I asked, they might lie. They might tell the truth to throw me off as well. There was no way to tell. Yet James, they had revealed, knew some way.

“Mila told us you were in here, so we just had to come watch.” insisted the other one, smiling at him.

I might not have minded were they to gain James’ affections. He seemed a man of great principle.

James looked surprised as he said, “Oh. Sorry, Duncan, but we need to fit practice in right now. Brandon and Brenna” ― he gestured to the red-headed siblings ― “have work early today.

Nodding, I told him “I like that you teach your employees discipline. All four have excellent posture. Too bad that one doesn’t seem to participate.” I had looked over to Jarod as I spoke, appalled that he couldn’t even be bothered to train properly.

“Jarod actually has a different teacher. He’s quite…” started James.

I interrupted him, saying, “What? He can’t keep up with your class?”

James wasn’t even working on any advanced techniques in here at the moment.

“Jarod, get changed.” came a voice from behind me.

I shivered, knowing the sound. Aaliyah was here.

“Nii-san, I hope you packed something fit for an exercise.” teased one of my sisters as she lightly touched my arm.

“We wouldn’t want your clothes torn.” agreed the other.

Their glee troubled me.

“Well, this should be entertaining.” stated Lady Pendreigh, though no amusement showed on her face. No interest either. She seemed, as always, perfectly serene.

What would be entertaining though? I reasoned that they wanted me to fight Jarod, but how would that even be worth my time?

Then Lady Pendreigh said, “You just insulted Aaliyah’s sole student in front of her.”

Fear coursed through me. I knew what was beyond that innocent child’s face. I knew her true form and could never escape having seen it. I dropped to the ground, bowing in dogeza style, as I adamantly apologized and prayed for my life. She could take life at a whim, so disrespecting her was absolutely forbidden. Why hadn’t my sisters warned me?

“Rise and prepare. I will tell my student to go easy on you.” she replied when I was finished.

The child-like face and cheerful demeanor did nothing to ease my inner suffering. Lady Pendreigh would not have even raised an eyebrow if had I been slain in front of her, too great was my mistake.

As I dressed, I tried to ease my tension. I was alive and possibly forgiven. I could not argue with Aaliyah, but I felt insulted by her words. No human was a match for me in any sense. In my veins ran the blood of the great ones, a strength which has protected humanity for millennia.

I hurried back, easily beating Jarod. I watched James training his students, unwilling to risk a glance at her. My sisters were blessed by their ignorance, all smiles and jokes. Had they known what I knew, they would run in horror from this place. How did James ever procure her help as a secretary? He might be even more dangerous than he seems.

When Jarod returned, James called his students to the side of the room, telling them to watch. Jarod and I stepped to the center, facing one another. He looked completely calm. I never noticed his eyes before. There was an intensity to him, an inner fire I had missed. Still, I would end this quickly.

I punched at his chest, intending to shatter his ribs. He flowed around my first like he was made of water, slamming his fist into my throat. I found myself falling to the ground, gasping for air. How could a human hit with such strength!? I took far longer to rise than I intended, but my breathing was off. I felt bruised.

When I rose, he was still standing there, completely calm. I attacked faster to match my opponent’s speed. I had underestimated him, but now I tested him. I faked hit after hit, trying to find his weakness. I couldn’t. His skill was very impressive. When he kicked at my head, I found my opening, so I kicked at his knee.

Jarod jumped into the air, kicking me solidly in the head. I needed more caution. Time passed in a continuous stream of near hits as both of us danced around the other. I wasn’t sure how much time has passed when I realized he was mocking me. He hadn’t been trying to attack yet, just toying with me.

In my rage, I attacked in full haste. He anticipated my attack, slamming his palm precisely across my knee. Through my rage, I felt the pain as my kneecap slid out of place. I dropped instantly, screaming out in defeat. The fight was over. I had lost.

,,,^._.^,,,

As nii-san clutched his leg, Jarod calmly bowed and walked away. James was quick to go after him, probably worrying over something silly again. Lady Pendreigh, my sister, and I hurried over to nii-san.

“Nii-san, did you get a boo-boo?” I asked.

“Want us to kiss it better?” teased Mai.

“Out of the way, girls. Your brother needs aid.” ordered Lady Pendreigh.

“Hai!” we exclaimed, stepping to the side.

“Isn’t that a bit harsh?” asked Emma.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“Nii-san needs a little teasing.” insisted Mai.

“I have to agree with Alma. That’s like when one of you went all crazy on my leg.” claimed Brandon. He grimaced as Lady Pendreigh repositioned nii-san’s knee.

“Oh, soulless… you were fixed in seconds.” I told him.

“Much to our despair.” teased Mai.

“Duncan will probably take a couple days, but he’ll be fine.” stated Lady Pendreigh as she stood.

:Our tips paid off!: exclaimed Mai.

:Jarod’s execution was incredible.: I insisted.

She didn’t argue. Nii-san’s pride would take longer to heal than his leg. He always did have a temper, and Jarod played it like a master musician.

“How did you find my student?” asked Aaliyah.

Nii-san grimaced before saying, “He is very formidable. Please forgive my misguided insult.”

“Nii-san, are you feeling okay?” asked Mai.

“Obviously not.” he replied.

“Oh. I knew you couldn’t really mean to say something nice about Jarod.” I told him.

“No, I did mean what I said.” he insisted.

“If you’re crippled for life, do we get all of your stuff?” I teased.

He laughed and said, “You two should show some sympathy for your brother. I’m injured!”

:James is back without Jarod.: pouted Mai, watching him come toward us.

“Sorry for getting a little excited there.” apologized nii-san. “It’s embarrassing to have so much trouble with a human. I’ll have to thank him later.”

“Thank him for what?” asked Jarod in shock.

“For saving him from me. Cheating is forbidden, especially when it puts someone so valuable at risk.” explained Lady Pendreigh.

Nii-san’s humor died as he nodded, ashamed of his transgression.

Aaliyah leaned close to him and giddily whispered “I didn’t appreciate you cheating either.”

Lady Pendreigh actually laughed.

My sister and I nearly laughed as well. Nii-san’s somber expression was priceless! He almost seemed scared. The assassin was certainly dangerous, but she wasn’t going to kill him without a contract. No one would be crazy enough to put a contract on him. Mother would call in every favor she could seeking revenge.

:She certainly doesn’t want us succeeding her.: teased Mai.

We didn’t really care, not anymore.

My sister and I pointed out “We did warn you, nii-san.”

“No one around her is normal, even the humans.” expounded Mai.

“James has a most interesting household.” I reiterated.

Nodding, Lady Pendreigh said, “So you can tell your mother one of the reasons I’m here.”

Nii-san attempted a smile, but he looked worried. He quickly turned to Brandon and asked “What can you do?”

Brandon smiled and caused his arms to grow in length and muscle mass, making him appear even more like the monkey he really was.

Not wanting to be shown up, Brenna changed her hair to black while tanning her skin.

“She thinks she’s only quasi-soulless.” I teased.

Nii-san then turned to Portentia and asked “And you?”

Shrugging, she told him “I’m invincible.”

Nii-san laughed, but we frowned, knowing she healed far too fast.

“That’s untested, but she does heal far more quickly than anyone else I’ve encountered. She also mastered the staff well enough to keep up with your sisters in a week.” stated Lady Pendreigh.

Our frown deepened. She didn’t have to tell him that much.

Nodding, nii-san told Portentia “Perhaps I can duel with you in a couple days after I’ve healed.”

Without waiting for a reply, he turned to Emma and said, “I’ve heard remarkable things about you. I would love getting a tour of the gardens if you don’t mind.”

My sister and I sighed. Mother was probably wanting to steal Emma away. James wouldn’t have it if he were told.

“Umm.. sure. Okay.” replied Emma.

:Emma’s not stupid. She wouldn’t give up this to be mother’s tool.: stated Mai.

:She’d be more interested in us anyways. We’re more fun: I teased.

:Oh! Great idea! You can chase after Emma while I take Jarod.: replied Mai in an equally teasing tone.

If we swung that way, we might actually consider it. We did enjoy Emma’s company, just not like that.

James helped nii-san to his feet before saying, “If you’re still hungry, we usually eat in the kitchen, honestly, but we can eat in the dining hall if you’d prefer.”

“As the saying goes, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’.” replied nii-san.

We each took one of his arms to help him along, but he started speaking to us in Japanese, asking us to help him court Emma. The larger problem for us was that he claimed this was his own intent, not mother’s. We were certain mother would approve if Emma could be persuaded. Emma’s magic was potent and immensely useful, so mother would gladly claim her. We didn’t really believe Emma would be interested and had no idea how to let nii-san know. He was too enthusiastic about this. Hopefully, Lady Pendreigh could help.