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The first time Sousuke went into a modern hardware store, Kurz wasn't sure he'd ever get him back out.

He went all wide-eyed over the nuts and bolts. He'd half-assembled a pipe bomb, minus munitions, when Kurz finally dragged him out of the plumbing aisle. When they finally got to the woodworking tools, Sousuke just stood and stared at the shelves for a while, fully overwhelmed, then, his eyes glowing with delight, began filling his basket.

It was the first time Sousuke'd ever looked like a kid to him, and later, when he'd told Melissa, she'd said he is a kid, stupid.

"I know," he said. "But when does he ever look like one?"

"Yeah," she said, popping open a beer. "You got me there."

"It's not fair," he said.

"I know." She looked down at her can. "You want one?"

He shook his head. "Think we can get him into a hobby?"

"What? He's probably got all the entertainment he needs making bombs and carving--whatever he's carving." She glanced over at the next room. "...what is he carving?"

"Probably some kind of incendiary device."


Neither of them moved.

"...should we stop him?" Kurz asked.

Melissa considered it. "We should probably tell him that making a bomb would violate the lease."

"Then we'll have to tell him what a lease is. And then--"

"We can do it later," Melissa said, and handed him a beer. It wasn’t like anything Sousuke made went off accidentally.


The grocery store was not better. Sousuke spent a good twenty minutes trying to determine why chicken was sold pre-butchered and wrapped in plastic and how they managed to stock such a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Kurz had to explain in great detail that the prices (Melissa and Sousuke were both right on that point, they were outrageous) weren't there to be haggled over, and in fact no one at the store had authority to set them. At least Sousuke was used to bringing his own grocery bags, though he'd been a bit flummoxed at the thin plastic ones Melissa had shoved at him when she'd glanced at Sousuke's detailed shopping list and ordered him to get the food for the week himself. She’d looked over his shoulder at Kurz with a pointed look that made it clear Kurz was supposed to tag along; her instincts had been right about that.

"How can they stand all these glass windows?" Sousuke muttered to him, when they were standing in line. Somehow, standing in line in one of the quietest places either of them had been in years, Sousuke’s posture was even stiffer than usual. "There's no way to secure--"

"This is a safe country," Kurz said. "Safer than either of us are used to. We just have to accept a little more risk, okay?"

Sousuke's eyes swept across the windows again. "Acceptable risk," he said. "All right."


"Okay," Melissa said, when the smoke had mostly cleared and her heartbeat had drawn closer to normal. "Let's take this one step at a time. Let's start at--no, wait. Let's start at the smoke alarm. What did you do to the smoke alarm?"

"It had to be deactivated," Sousuke said. "It wouldn't stop beeping, and I ascertained that the flames--"

"Okay, flames," Melissa said. "Let's--okay, we won't talk about why the alarm’s in three pieces, I think Kurz and I can get that one on our own. But the flames."

"I had--" Sousuke had the presence of mind to look a little embarrassed over this one. "I have not been trained on modern stovetop protocols. I attempted to access the manual but my attempts were unsuccessful, and I decided it would be easier to just use the stovetop as a cooking surface."

"You started a fire," Melissa said. "On the top of the stove."

"It was very carefully controlled," Sousuke said. "I failed to account for the sensitivity of the fire alarm, and at first I thought it was a security alert--"

"It is an alert, Sousuke."

"So I had to check the room for any security violations, and in my distraction I failed to realize that the food I was preparing had actually caught on fire."

"And that's why there's foam from the fire extinguisher all over the stove."

Sousuke nodded.

Melissa rubbed her forehead with her fingertips. "Of course."

"I've been working to restore the kitchen to a workable state--"

"Go find Kurz and take a walk," she said, and her voice was a lot calmer than she thought it would have been. "Just--get some fresh air. You'll be able to get more work done when you come back."

"I do apologize--"

"I know, Sagara. I know. Just--go."

Melissa got up after he left, walked around the kitchen as if looking it over again would make the whole thing seem less terrible. It didn't, of course, but she noticed two foam-coated pieces of paper on the counter: the list of ingredients he’d shown Melissa earlier in the week, and a note about something at school.

She'd already started recognizing Kaname Chidori's name.


"Okay," Kurz said. "I've called Mithril, and they're gonna deal with the landlord, which is good, because damned if I know what I'd tell them. We just have to try to get the smell out of here."

"I opened a window," she said. "You just can't tell." It would probably smell even worse to her when she got some fresh air and came back into it.

"What was he doing?"

"I can't read that much Japanese, but I'm pretty sure he was on assignment from our Angel."

"Aaaaaah," Kurz said.

"He was trying to--I don't know if he was trying to impress her, but he was definitely trying to make her happy."

"Huh," Kurz said.

"Yeah," Melissa agreed.

Kurz handed her the beer he’d grabbed her from the fridge and she opened it gratefully.

"What do you think his first kiss'll be like?" Melissa asked.

"Awkward," Kurz said.

She laughed.


Sousuke himself thought that his transition to civilian life was going reasonably well. His language skills were excellent, his attendance record and grades were exemplary, and he'd managed to get to a point where Chidori only raised her voice to him once or twice a week.

The korma had come out all right, once Melissa had calmed down and allowed him to use the stove again, this time under direct supervision. Chidori seemed to like it. "You really made this yourself?"

He nodded. "It's very popular in Afghanistan. It has excellent nutritional value, and--"

"It's good," she said. "Thank you. You didn't have to make so much--"

"You told me this was for the class," he said.

"Yes, but--" She sighed. Sometimes he knew he'd failed some kind of test, but she didn't seem angry about it this time, just resigned. "It's okay," she said. "This way everyone can taste something from Afghanistan! I'm not sure many of them really believe that you lived there."

"But I--"

"I know," she said. It was probably just the novelty of good dental hygiene that made her smile seem so bright. "But I still think it'll be fun."

Fun. He still had some trouble wrapping his head around what people meant by that. But making Chidori happy was something he thought he was starting to get the hang of. "I’ll do my best," he said.

“Of course,” she said. "I know you will."