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Chapter One  

The ice pack slipped from her head, mussed red and silver hair slipping over one sapphire eye. With a huff, she ran her finger over the small pad, moving the cursor on the screen of the laptop that sat on her blanket-covered lap. The screen displayed pictures of alchemic symbols, messages in several languages she didn't understand following. Only three she did: French, English, and Japanese. As much as she desperately wanted to continue with the translations, the rest of the message she couldn't understand, and instead made a note in the notebook at her side of where to find them, opting to shut down her work for the day. At least then she could get some rest...

"Hey...How's your head?"

Ah, the return of the dork. "Incredibly painful. How goes the search?"

"Horribly." Her sapphire met the newcomer's violet, his head shaking a moment later.

"Work isn't going to help you any."

"I know, I know. Forgive me for -" She paused, flinching in pain, "- trying to finish my work."

"This wasn't part of the plan." Crossing the room and stepping into a beam of light, she took note of his ripped clothing. He hadn't changed since the day they'd met. His callused palm pressed against her forehead, muttering soft, scolding remarks to her as she fidgeted. "Your head is warm."

"Thanks for the announcement, Hiro. I think I realized that when even the freezer wouldn't cool me off."

Hiro's head tilted, genuine concern displayed on his face. "You sure you don't need anything, Ace? I'm willing to go get it."

"I know. Thanks for the concern. Just a bit of rest is all I need."


"Hiroyuki, I'll be fine." Full first names were a rarity when they addressed each other, and, running a hand through his shoulder length black hair, he gave in. If she was willing to go on without his help, then he'd have to operate in secret.

"Fine. But I have a condition." A slender brow raised, and he went on. "I'm taking this away." Gathering up Acelin's laptop and notebook, he placed it under his bed on the other side of the room, ignoring her whimpers of protest.


"Don't you Hiro me. No work. Rest."

"I hate you."

"Love you too."

Leaving Acelin to her own devices, Hiro stepped out of the room once more, smoothing a portion of his mussed hair. All she did was work, and it worried him. Ever since the day they'd met, the day he'd sworn to follow every move she made. Shoving the thought aside, he gathered up the keycard on the table, his black leather jacket and headed for the door. The most she would let him do would be gathering supplies, and that was what he planned to do. On the side he could collect things to speed her recovery. Oh, the horrors of living with a work-driven magician.

Worn out boots stink. At least, Hiroyuki believed they did upon his arrival at the last store on his list. That was what he got for picking out shoes with next to no padding. Adjusting the giant bag he'd bought at the last store on his shoulder, he went through the list in his mind, walking down the aisles of the super-store. Snagging a basket, the male went about his shopping, mumbling to himself, much to the dismay of the shoppers around him.

Batteries for their multiple electronic devices, books, pencils, and notebooks to add to the pile they already owned, food for the trip. What was he forgetting? He adjusted the semi-tight denim jeans around his waist, glancing down the aisles. Everything but food, and that he was picking up slowly as he went. Thinking back to Acelin's requests the night before, he missed the stares of a few teenage girls, even ignoring their mumbles to each other. He'd never thought of himself as handsome, having gone with low self-esteem until Acelin rescued him, but apparently others did. Stopping in the beauty and health aisle, he frowned and turned his violet gaze to the flocks of young girls roaming the supplies there. What a wonderful day. She'd owe him for this.

Making his way through the girls, he picked out as many healing related items as he could. Granted most of them probably wouldn't work, but he was too worried about his partner's health to care. The mumbles followed him here, too; this time he listened to quite a few before continuing on. Handsome? Dark? What were teenage girls learning in school these days? And it didn't help that they followed him to the end of the line of shelves, watching him head for the registers. Face flush with color, he went about checking out, making the note to talk to other adults later. Teenagers scared him.

The remainder of the process was quick. The trip back to the hotel was faster than the trip out. Two more days, he estimated, and he'd be able to leave this evil city. Thankful for the emptiness of the elevator, he held up a hand as the doors closed, willing a soft red light to surround it. It disappeared as quickly as it had come, leaving Hiro out of breath and exhausted. Learning magic hadn't been something he'd wanted to do, and now that he was, it was harder than it seemed. The entire process took more out of him than he could have imagined; just that little bit of a try had taken up the last bit of energy he had left. Fire magic was going to be the first thing he mastered once he got his stamina back up.

Door dinging and sliding open, he stepped out into the small hallway, and fished the keycard out of his pocket. The space on the other side of the door sounded oddly quiet. The card slid neatly into the mechanical lock, a buzz declaring it open, and the doorknob was turned to let him inside to a sight he never thought he'd see.

Aceline's bags were emptied out, the contents spread about the suite, while the girl sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the couch, body covered in a soft, pulsing light of brown and purple. Her eyes were closed, and from where he stood, he couldn't tell if she was sleeping or meditating. The initial shock wearing off after a moment, Hiro hurried inside, closing the door as quietly as he could manage, and stepped over the magician's things to put the supplies in the only unused room they had.

Placing the groceries in the refrigerator, he tried to shake the feeling of uneasiness that had washed over him. He'd never seen that before; she'd only spoken of it over meals once or twice before, so it shouldn't have been a total shock. Illnesses usually resulted in more strange things than he cared to remember, like the onslaught of magical attacks when her guard was dropped last time. But that had been in a different country, at a different time. This time nothing about that light seemed right.

Eyes widening, he glanced up in time to see the fireball hit the wall to the upper right of the refrigerator. After all this time, he thought he'd be used to the magic, but he hadn't sensed anything besides Aceline.

"Hiro! Are you okay?!" A still glowing hand rested on his back, fear forcing him to shy away from her touch and to turn, ready to fight. Although the purple had faded, the chocolate brown color was still surrounding her, seeming to slowly fade as Aceline turned a worried look up to him. "You're okay?"

"I.. I'm fine. What was that?"

"Something the hotel's gonna charge us for." Her gentle smile calmed him some, the brown air almost completely gone. "You should know that I can't control my magic when I'm sick."

"Then sleep more." Placing a package of migraine pills in her hand, he went back to putting the food away.

"We'll leave tomorrow."


As much as she didn't want to worry him, she had to. The girl slid into the bathroom, locking the door behind her. The pills had been a sweet idea. Opening the package with one hand, she turned on the faucet with the other and stared at herself in the large mirror. What had gotten him so upset? She looked normal for the most part; her eyes, usually a bright sapphire, now held a tint of purple, and the brown light that had been present a minute ago was gone. She loved having him around, but if little things like that would bother him, then she was better off without an apprentice, friend, and bodyguard. The attacks, the magic, the traveling; maybe it would be better off without him.

"Sorry ‘bout that."

Eyeing the door, she took in the sight of Hiro as he tossed his t-shirt at the bag of laundry in the bathroom's corner. His entire torso was covered in scars and still healing wounds, adding to his mysterious look. Raising a brow, she made the mental note that maybe it wouldn't be so bad to have him around, and quickly took one of the migraine pills she'd forgotten she still held. Turning off the faucet and missing the sight of the male continuing to collect things for his shower, Aceline returned to bed, determined to sleep off her sickness by morning. The last thing they needed was for her to get sick on the trip to the next city.
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