“No tea.” Kenji shoots me a look. He taps the side of his leg, thinking.
“Do you want t—”
“Where is Warner now?” Kenji cuts me off.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I think he’s still in his room. He had a bunch of boxes he wanted to sort through—”
Kenji is on his feet in an instant. He holds up one finger. “I’ll be right back.”
“Wait! Kenji—I don’t think that’s a good idea—”
But he’s already gone.
I slump into the couch and sigh.
As I suspected. Not a good idea.
Warner is standing stiffly beside my couch, hardly looking at Kenji. I think he still hasn’t forgiven him for the terrible haircut, and I can’t say I blame him. Warner looks different without his golden hair—not bad, no—but different. His hair is barely half an inch long, one uniform length throughout, a shade of blond that registers only dimly as a color now. But the most interesting change in his face is that he’s got a soft, subtle shadow of stubble—as though he’s forgotten to shave lately—and I’m surprised to find that it doesn’t bother me. He’s too naturally good-looking to have his genetics undone by a simple haircut and, the truth is, I kind of like it. I’d hesitate to say this to Warner, as I don’t know whether he’d appreciate the unorthodox compliment, but there’s something nice about the change. He looks a little coarser now; a little rougher around the edges. He’s less beautiful but somehow, impossibly—
Short, uncomplicated hair; a five o’clock shadow; a deeply, deeply serious face.
It works for him.
He’s wearing a soft, navy-blue sweater—the sleeves, as always, pushed up his forearms—and slim black pants tucked into shiny black ankle boots. It’s an effortless look. And right now he’s leaning against a column, his arms crossed against his chest, feet crossed at the ankles, looking more sullen than usual, and I’m really kind of enjoying the view.
Kenji, however, is not.
The two of them look more irritated than ever, and I realize I’m to blame for the tension. I keep trying to force them to spend time together. I keep hoping that, with enough experience, Kenji will come to see what I love about Warner, and that Warner will learn to admire Kenji the way that I do—but it doesn’t seem to be working. Forcing them to spend time together is beginning to backfire.
“So,” I say, clapping my hands together. “Should we talk?”
“Sure,” Kenji says, but he’s staring at the wall. “Let’s talk.”
No one talks.
I tap Warner’s knee. When he looks at me, I gesture for him to sit down.
“Please,” I whisper.
Finally, reluctantly, he sighs. “You said you had questions for me.”
“Yeah, first question: Why are you such a dick?”
Warner stands up. “Sweetheart,” he says quietly, “I hope you will forgive me for what I’m about to do to his face.”
“Hey, asshole, I can still hear you.”
“Okay, seriously, this has to stop.” I’m tugging on Warner’s arm, trying to get him to sit down, and he won’t budge. My superhuman strength is totally useless on Warner; he just absorbs my power. “Please, sit down. Everyone. And you,” I say, pointing at Kenji, “you need to stop instigating fights.”
Kenji throws a hand in the air, makes a sound of disbelief. “Oh, so it’s always my fault, huh? Whatever.”
“No,” I say heavily. “It’s not your fault. This is my fault.”
Kenji and Warner turn to look at me at the same time, surprised.
“This?” I say, gesturing between them. “I caused this. I’m sorry I ever asked you guys to be friends. You don’t have to be friends. You don’t even have to like each other. Forget I said anything.”
Warner drops his crossed arms.
Kenji raises his eyebrows.
“I promise,” I say. “No more forced hangout sessions. No more spending time alone without me. Okay?”
“You swear?” Kenji says.
“Thank God,” Warner says.
“Same, bro. Same.”
And I roll my eyes, irritated. This is the first thing they’ve managed to agree on in over a week: their mutual hatred of my hopes for their friendship.
But at least Kenji is finally smiling. He sits down on the couch and seems to relax. Warner takes the seat next to me—still composed, but far less tense.
And that’s it. That’s all it takes. The tension is gone. Now that they’re free to hate each other, they seem perfectly friendly. I don’t understand them at all.
“So—you have questions for me, Kishimoto?” Warner says.
Kenji nods, leans forward. “Yeah—yeah, I want to know everything you remember about the Ibrahim family. We’ve got to be prepared for whatever Haider throws at us at dinner tonight, which”—Kenji looks at his watch, frowns—“is in, like, twenty minutes, no thanks to you guys, but anyway I’m wondering if you can tell us anything about his possible motivations. I’d like to be one step ahead of this dude.”
Warner nods. “Haider’s family will take more time to unpack. As a whole, they’re intimidating. But Haider himself is far less complex. In fact, he’s a strange choice for this situation. I’m surprised Ibrahim didn’t send his daughter instead.”
Warner shrugs. “Haider is less competent. He’s self-righteous. Spoiled. Arrogant.”
“Wait—are we describing you or Haider?”
Warner doesn’t seem to mind the gibe. “You are misunderstanding a key difference between us,” he says. “It’s true that I am confident. But Haider is arrogant. We are not the same.”
“Sounds like the same thing to me.”
Warner clasps his hands and sighs, looking for all the world like he’s trying to be patient with a difficult child. “Arrogance is false confidence,” he says. “It is born from insecurity. Haider pretends to be unafraid. He pretends to be crueler than he is. He lies easily. That makes him unpredictable and, in some ways, a more dangerous opponent. But the majority of the time his actions are inspired by fear.” Warner looks up, looks Kenji in the eye. “And that makes him weak.”
“Huh. Okay.” Kenji sinks further into the couch, processing. “Anything particularly interesting about him? Anything we should be aware of?”
“Not really. Haider is mediocre at most things. He excels only occasionally. He’s obsessed mainly with his physique, and most talented with a sniper rifle.”
Kenji’s head pops up. “Obsessed with his physique, huh? You sure you two aren’t related?”
At this, Warner’s face sours. “I am not obsessed with m—”
“Okay, okay, calm down.” Kenji waves his hands around. “No need to worry your pretty little face about it.”
“I detest you.”
“I love that we feel the same way about each other.”
“All right, guys,” I say loudly. “Focus. We’re having dinner with Haider in like five minutes, and I seem to be the only one worried about this revelation that he’s a super-talented sniper.”
“Yeah, maybe he’s here for some, you know”—Kenji makes a finger gun motion at Warner, and then at himself—“target practice.”
Warner shakes his head, still a little annoyed. “Haider is all show. I wouldn’t worry about him. As I said, I would only worry if his sister were here—which means we should probably plan to worry very soon.” He exhales. “She will almost certainly be arriving next.”
At this, I raise my eyebrows. “Is she really scary?”
Warner tilts his head. “Not scary, exactly,” he says to me. “She’s very cerebral.”
“So she’s . . . what?” says Kenji. “Psycho?”
“Not at all. But I’ve always been able to get a sense of people and their emotions, and I could never get a good read on her. I think her mind moves too quickly. There’s something kind of . . . flighty about the way she thinks. Like a hummingbird.” He sighs. Looks up. “Anyhow, I haven’t seen her in several months, at least, but I doubt much about her has changed.”