The way Graham looked at him seemed less murderous so Naoto felt successful. He relaxed a little more and smiled at Graham more naturally. “I won’t, don’t worry,” he replied. He’d make more comments like he had before again if he felt that it would help him get what he wanted, but at this point he didn’t think he’d have anything to gain from that.
Naoto quietly listened to everything Graham told him, and ignored his food to pay close attention to him. This was the point where he probably needed to work extra hard to seem competent and worth working with. Graham had important information, so he couldn’t mess this up. “I’ll definitely make this worth your while,” he commented, “I’ll tell you everything I know, and nobody will ever find out we’re working together. You can trust me, Mr. Miller.”
He kept smiling, reached over, and firmly shook Graham’s hand. “We have an agreement.” If all of this went as smoothly as he hoped, he might be able to figure out what was going on at AMS much more quickly than he was expecting to. He also could end up with a cute new friend with an even cuter accent. This was perfect.
“Now that we’ve figured all this out, why don’t we just have a nice dinner together? We don’t need to talk about work all night~” Naoto went back to twisting some more noodles around his fork. “Besides, I want to hear more about you. Where are you from?”
Hidaka smiled with ease and offered up reassurances; while those were nice in themselves, what followed was best of all. ‘You can trust me’ meant absolutely nothing in their world, especially Graham’s. To trust someone meant giving them a part of himself and expecting them to care for it—and no one could protect him like he could himself.
Yet their hands slid together, and he grasped Hidaka’s just as firmly in return. In that moment that truly meant nothing—there could be no true trust in this situation, after all—something real was established. Hidaka had signed his contract with the devil, and all Graham could do was smile at him in return. The lingering touches before their hands separated entirely remained on his mind, as if the sensation had never really ended at all.
“You’ve made an excellent choice of colleagues,” he told the man across the table. Now, he could keep his enemy closer than he would have been able to otherwise. As long as he could keep an eye on this man, drastic measures wouldn’t have to be taken for his own personal security. They would someday, but until then…
…Entertaining the idea of a friendship wouldn’t be the worst move to make. “I was born in America. It was nice enough, but I vastly prefer European cities.” He waved his hand dismissively, at nothing in particular. He didn’t really want to go back without good reason. “Japan has a special appeal as well.” He’d switched properly back into bragging mode, and was well-prepared to answer whatever harmless questions were thrown at him for the remainder of the evening. At least half of the answers were bound to be lies—but there was no better way to build a foundation for this quaint partnership.
Graham was looking forward to this.
Graham really thought he was joking? Naoto couldn’t help but laugh. “What makes you think this is a joke?” he asked, not loosening his grip, “I think carrots should be the least of your concerns right now. I know everything about you. I know you’re nothing special.” What he was saying might have been cutting deep, but he couldn’t find it in himself to care. He couldn’t find it in him to care how anyone felt. He was a spy and he had a job to do, there wasn’t anything or anyone else that mattered.
He raised the knife in his hand slightly so Graham could easily see it as well. He turned it over in his hand, but didn’t do anything else with it. “So why should I keep you around?” He asked, looking down at the knife and then looking back at Graham.
Graham’s reaction to that derisive laugh was to immediately narrow his eyes, even while they were focused on only the wall. As Naoto continued, Graham set his teeth on edge as well. It felt like each word was acid was dripping down his throat, burning lower and more intensely with time. ‘Nothing special’ felt more like fire, and immediately he shifted his glare back to Naoto. His own words wouldn’t work yet.
Nothing special… that continued to echo in his head.
“You are taking this joke too far, Naoto,” he accused, trying to throw off and pull away from Naoto’s grip more forcefully this time. “Release me!” He’d seen the knife, but he didn’t see any significance to it. “You need to work on your sense of humor before you say something I won’t forgive.” He was being generous enough already. There was no way this wasn’t a joke, or it never would have crossed his mind to try to excuse it.
Naoto really couldn’t have cared less about the seasoning, or his chopping skills. Instead of moving his arm away from Graham, he shifted it, but left it around Graham’s shoulder. He left his hand on Graham’s upper arm and trying to keep a tight grip on it. “That’s cute,” he said in the same tone, “But this is much more serious than that. I know you’re not a spy.”
Naoto smiled and leaned even closer. “Did you really think you could fool a real spy? I’m not stupid.”
One way to make the touching even more discomforting was to tighten his grip, and Naoto did as much after readjusting his arm. Graham set down the bottle of seasoning. “Why are you holding on so tightly?” he asked, about as passively disgusted as anytime Naoto was overly affectionate when he wasn’t in the mood for it. Not that this felt affectionate.
At the spy suggestion, he felt his chest clench unexpectedly. “Dinner is not the time for ill-humored jokes, Naoto,” he snapped, averting his eyes instead of meeting Naoto’s with a challenging gaze. Even if it was a harmless joke, it cut into him somehow and didn’t forget to leave a mark. “Finish up with the carrots already.”
It wasn’t a particularly thrilling way to spend the evening, but it was interesting enough for Naoto. He and Graham were attempting to cook something together, but there was no telling at that point if it would turn out edible. Naoto wasn’t the best cook, but Graham had to be aware of that by that point. They’d been together for a little while, so it wasn’t uncommon for them to spend time together at Naoto’s apartment like that. This was a pretty average evening, overall.
Naoto’s duty was cutting a carrot until thin slices, but he wasn’t doing so well. All the slices were uneven and in all different sizes, but the carrots weren’t honestly his main concern at the time. He had a lot of other things on his mind. He finished more uneven slices, and then looked over at Graham. He didn’t drop the knife, but he leaned closer to Graham and tried to put an arm around him. “I know the truth about you,” he whispered without any of his usual cheeriness, still leaving his arm around Graham and one hand on the knife.
Both searching for and fiddling around with different seasonings didn’t yield much of a result. Naoto didn’t have a vast assortment of them to choose from to begin with, and Graham wasn’t sure which of the few he could find would fit the carrots well enough to make them edible. He wasn’t excited for those, but it was only a side dish.
“I suppose this one wouldn’t be the worst choice,” he announced to himself, but plenty loud enough for Naoto to hear him. Once he stepped back near the one doing all the hard work, he held it out far enough for them both to get a good look at it and soon felt an arm around his shoulders.
Graham tensed at that tone, but refused to let it get to him. “The truth that I think you need to brush up on your chopping skills?” he replied, rolling his shoulders in an attempt to remove that arm from them.
The girl tilted her head to the side, some genuine hesitation being expressed on her face. It wasn’t uncommon that everyone in Kisaragi knew each other by name, and could easily recognize who one had been speaking about. This had been a stranger though, maybe he had gotten around? Or, maybe not…
“How do you know that.. ? “
“I told you, I am a spy! Any spy worth his credentials can find out important details about who he is speaking with. He wouldn’t want to end up speaking with an enemy unknowingly!”
Speaking of enemies, it occurred to Graham then that bringing up the other spies he knew of might reinforce her newfound confidence in him. “Are you aware that many spies are currently wandering Kisaragi? So many are keeping quiet, out of fear of being discovered. Yet they are here, just as I am.”
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“They’re pretty bad actually, makes me question your authenticity of being a spy even further! I for one, don’t believe you! And, I think it’s perfectly justified why I feel such a way! Liars shouldn’t be respected, so I don’t think I HAVE any reason to respect you!”
Graham gave the girl quite a serious look. There were plenty of things he could say to that. Most of them were a little more vicious than he’d ever allow himself to say to someone completely unsuspecting of his capabilities, so he held his tongue.
After a moment, he closed his eyes and tossed on a slightly… friendlier expression. “Would anyone but a spy be aware of your name without being told, Miss Mika Nozaki?”
(And of course there would be, since she wasn’t exactly a face that blended into the crowd in Kisaragi, but he’d continue only if she insisted as much.)
Naoto knew he couldn’t call Graham himself cute, but he didn’t know he couldn’t call his name cute either. That was a problem. Graham seemed flustered about it, which made him feel a little bad about it, even if he did look really… well, cute like that. “…Did I say cute? I meant unique,” Naoto replied, even though there was no way he was going to be able to save that slip-up now, “You’re the only Graham I’ve ever met, you know that? It’s a really cool name. Not cute at all.” Now he was worried he was just making things worse.
“Unique” was a word that loosened the tension in his shoulders. A deep breath later, he’d relaxed even further, and the heat was fading from his face. “I don’t care if you have met other Grahams,” he announced, surprising himself in the process. “It doesn’t matter if the name is unique, so much as it matters if I am.”
“But we seem to be off-topic now,” he added hurriedly, not sure what he’d been aiming at with what he’d said before that. “I will call you Naoto now. That is what you want, is it not?”
Naoto was perfectly fine with letting go of Graham. He took a step back from him and smiled brightly. It was awkward hugging someone who wasn’t really into it anyway. “I’m not exaggerating at all, this is really awesome.”
He hadn’t really thought about it before, but maybe his use of first names did make things a little uncomfortable. “Being informal is way more comfortable than being all stuffy and formal. At least for me.” He had to use last names with his students, but he still talked to them informally besides that. He always saved all his formalness for work and didn’t worry about it other times.
“Besides, Graham is a cute name. I want to say it all the time.”
Graham was only feeling vaguely insulted, without the ability to identify why, before Naoto went on to calling his first name “cute”. Immediately, a blush spread over his cheeks and he stared off at—something—to the left. Something that wasn’t Naoto. His arms wrapped themselves around him in a tight self-hug.
“It is not cute,” he retorted, his frustration evident in his tone. “Stop attributing that word to any aspect of me.” Didn’t he make that clear enough last time?
“Exactly! First names mean way more. This is a huge deal.”
“You are exaggerating,” Graham claimed, for the first time attempting to break away from this embrace. He was the only one allowed to hyperbolize everything. “And you were the one being uncomfortably informal to begin with. Now, we match.” He paused, somewhat uneasily. “I suppose.”
He was vaguely happy to see Naoto this happy, but he didn’t want to show it. Or admit it, to himself.
A new face in Kisaragi! At least, one Graham hadn’t seen before, and he prided himself on knowing everyone. He really didn’t, and if shown a handful of people likely couldn’t name a single one—but he could tell himself he knew everyone all day long, and make up an extravagant excuse if he was wrong in whatever situation.
This new face looked sort of rough-around-the-edges: exactly the type most susceptible to influence, so long as the personality matched the looks. The only way he’d find out would be speaking with this person, and so he decided to do so. He approached the man swiftly, but about as casually as he could manage. “Welcome to Kisaragi! You are new here, aren’t you? Of course you are,” he completed without waiting for an answer. ”You will never find a more gorgeous seaside town, I promise you that.”
Visibly flustered, Graham froze on the spot. He didn’t fight the embrace, but he didn’t return it either. “I-It really isn’t worth celebrating over, Naoto—”
“Of course it is,” Naoto replied just as enthusiastically, “You finally said my name! Twice! This is great!”
“I have called you by your name since we met,” Graham responded in a much prouder voice, although it wound down into a mumble before he spoke again. “…Although it has usually been your last name.”
“Like that’s even necessary!” The girl scoffed, eyeing the indentification cards for no more than two seconds at most. Mika had a clear idea of who she had been dealing with, merely by the taking of the cards. This was it, the notorious man around Kisaragi who had been blabbering his apparent higher role amongst the citizens. If that hadn’t been excruciatingly pretentious, she wasn’t sure what was.
“So, you’re the guy bragging about being a spy or whatever. These don’t look all that reliable, you know. You sure that these weren’t made by you?”
With an almost bewildered look, Graham looked down at the girl and shook his head. “Of course I made them. You can’t tell by that impeccable craftwork?” Which really wasn’t there at all. The cards were about at the level of a clever, but not very artistically skilled, high-school student. “I can’t exactly show you the identifying results of my retinal scan, so the cards will have to do.”
“It goes far beyond bragging; I am a spy. As I am currently looking out for your city, don’t you think you should be more respectful?”
“You look to be just as much of a child as I suspected,” Graham announced, with a tone that shifted from cross to smug very quickly. Of course he was right in his guess. Although how much younger than him she was, he wasn’t certain.
“You must not have the slightest idea of whom you are insulting, dear girl.” To correct that, he immediately reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of handmade CIA identification cards. To her, he offered them all. “Educate yourself, and then feel free to fall at my feet and apologize.”
I assure you, whatever sort of child you may be, that my hair is not a mop and never will be used as one. Your quaint observation is entirely unnecessary.