“Wa-oh, so you really are a shopkeeper.”

From behind Clarence, the young Sylva followed closely, as if afraid to be shut out.

And Clarence had thought of the idea for a split second before giving up on it. They were already at The Magpie after all and it was too late to shake off the shameless bum that had attached himself to him.

But Clarence suspected it would have been pointless and redundant. He had already tried and failed back in the alley.

“What were you expecting? Superman?” Clarence rolled his eyes at the other as he unlocked the front doors to his shop/house.

But before the Sylva could reply with something that would surely have Clarence’s forehead vein throbbing, a loud voice interrupted them.

“Clancy! About time you’re back! Do you know what time it is?! Don’t tell me that the date went that well? Mr. Wang didn’t look like the impatient sort….”

Unfortunately, while Clarence may have been spared of a cheeky reply from a certain hoodlum he picked up, there was no avoiding a sister who made it a hobby of undermining little brothers.

Clarence could feel a headache building. He just knew he shouldn’t have left the shop today.

“Dawn! Don’t you have work tomorrow? Why are you still here this late?”

Dawn flipped a red curl and gave him an ‘isn’t it obvious’ look and said, “Well, Leila and I wouldn’t have had to wait this late if someone bothered to return before curfew.” Letting out an exaggerated sigh, “Ai~ all men are the same, they forget they even have a mother let alone a sister when a wife comes into the picture.”

Clarence didn’t bother with responding and made a beeline for the Guzzler where Leila was already filling a glass of whiskey. It was best that he let Dawn have her drama queen moments uninterrupted.

“Why, if I was your mother I would cry into my pillow. How could I have raised such an ungrateful – who are you?” Dawn was just getting warmed up when hazel eyes met a pair of amused bicolor ones.

“Ahem. Ah, I haven’t introduced myself, have I? The name’s Mikhail Lebedev. But you can all just call me Mikhail.” Mikhail’s grin widened and the single dimple in his left cheek deepened as he blinked suggestively in Clarence’s direction. “But only my soulmate can call me Mika.”

“Soulmate?!” A surprised and delighted exclamation sounded out.

Dawn sat up straight and threw out the tissue she had been dabbing at nonexistent tears with while fake crying earlier. Hazels shone with excitement and the gossip monster inside reared its head.

“Why Clancy! I never knew you had it in you! A morning date with Major Fitzroy, an afternoon date with Mr. Wang and now an evening date with Mr. Lebedev?!”

After having finally recovered with a swig of burning whiskey, Clarence interrupted Dawn’s fantasies, “Does it look like we’ve just been on a nice pleasant date?”

Dawn paused.

“What happened?” Leila finally spoke up, immediately concern replaced the smirk of schadenfreude amusement.

“Nothing to worry too much about. Ran across this guy getting beat up by a gang of hoodlums and saved the day. That’s why it took so long to return.” Clarence didn’t want to worry the girls too much with something he didn’t think was all that important. The Athanatos Society even in its heyday was not something he would hold in any regard.

They may have tried to reforge the weapons, artifacts and elixirs of ancient Alchemists but that was simply all it was. Forgeries that could not hold up against the real deal. The Alchemist runes being used to create the weapons, like the double barrel gun he saw in the possession of the hooded Alchemist earlier were incomplete and fragmented, its power largely reduced. Not to mention, the transmutation process was completely different from the one employed by ancient Alchemists.

He hadn’t even wanted to bring up any mention of the fight, so inconsequential he found it to be but he knew Dawn wouldn’t be deterred by anything else.

“Oh, that’s terrible. Clancy, where did you put the healing salve? Leila do you know?” Dawn leaped to her feet to search, a little embarrassed she hadn’t noticed their guest’s injuries until now.

Mikhail waved a hand carelessly, “Not a big deal. I am a Sylva, you know. I do have healing experience and I know my wounds look scary but none are deadly.”

“Oh? Who was the one claiming that a vital organ had been hit?” Clarence’s frosty gaze swept the Sylva who seemed confident and at ease in a completely new environment, winning over the girls with just a few words.

Mikhail coughed, but appeared not at all ashamed. “Come on Clancy, won’t you take some pity on a homeless and penniless guy, all alone and without any support in a strange and unfamiliar city?”

“Don’t call me Clancy. And I recall that you held up your own back there.”

“You can call me Mika in return.” Mikhail offered graciously only for it to be ignored. “I surely wouldn’t have escaped those Athanatos dogs with just these injuries if not for Clancy.”

Crash.

The previous light and easy atmosphere froze and everyone looked in the direction of the sound.

Dawn had finally found a jar of healing salve but it was currently shattered into broken porcelain pieces at her feet. Dawn herself also appeared absentminded.

“Dawn?”

Dawn twitched a corner of her lip in a smile that appeared more like a grimace. Her usual cheery air completely gone. “Ah. Sorry about that. Let me go get a dustbin.”

The clicking of heels moved farther into the shop but the tension still lingered in the air and Leila tried her best to be invisible, hugging Miss Maggy to her chest.

After a while, Mikhail broke the silence, “Was it something I said?”

Clarence gave him a sideway look but he still replied, “Anyone ever tell you that you have a gift of setting off bombshells without even meaning to?”

Mikhail tugged sheepishly on a strand of silver and for the first time Clarence caught a flash of embarrassment in his normally carefree and smiling face. “Ahem. Possibly? So what is it? I won’t forget and step on it again.”

Clarence replied in boredom, “Oh, there was another little brother before me but he ran off searching for power and immortality.”

Both Mikhail and Leila couldn’t help giving Clarence speechless looks for such a glib response.

Mikhail might not understand it yet but Leila knew just how much contempt Clarence had for the so called little brother that came before him. 

Changing the subject, Leila asked with curiosity, “So how did your dates with Major Fitzroy and Mr. Wang go?”

“I would appreciate it if you all quit calling them dates, thanks. The appointments went alright if you must know.”

Leila grinned, “Still too traumatized from the blind dates Dawn set you up with?”

Mikhail also joined in, “Blind dates? What’s a guy like you doing on blind dates?” Amber and turquoise roamed over Clarence’s casual but graceful form and his striking features.

Leila piped up, “Oh don’t get tricked by his appearance, underneath the young, handsome and talented Alchemist persona is an old man who likes to nitpick, stay holed up with his inventions, has eccentric tastes, antisocial tendencies……”

Catching sight of a raised eyebrow from Clarence, Leila paused her list making, unable to rise up against the tyranny of her boss.

Laughing dryly, Leila stood up with Miss Maggy in her arms. “I think I’ll go help Dawn look for more healing salve. Yes, that’s what I’ll do.”

“No need, I found a new jar of it already.”

A cheerful voice interrupted and Dawn appeared, all smiles again as if the loss in composure had not even ocurred.

No one brought it up either.

Clarence took the small jar of salve and tossed it over to Mikhail who reflexively caught it in a raised palm.

“Put it on yourself.”

But before Mikhail could react, Dawn immediately responded with a chiding tone, “Clancy, is that any way to treat an injured patient? Would it kill you to help Mikhail put it on?”

Clarence couldn’t help rolling his eyes. But, he didn’t bother talking back to Dawn.

Sitting over next to the smiling Sylva on the long couch, he proceeded to dig out a lump of mint smelling cream that had a pearly sheen and lifted the ripped v-neck shirt up to the other’s chin.

His movements were so fast and decisive even Dawn raised an eyebrow, having expected some more protests.

She was about to tease her adorable little bro on being a softy but was deterred by the nasty wound she saw on Mikhail’s abdomen.

“Oh my!”

It was a wound left by the Alchemist gun and while the bullet had gone right through without hitting any major organ it still left a nasty bloody hole with burnt skin cracks that extended around the circumference of the wound like bloody veins.

Even Clarence was surprised that the young Sylva had managed to sit around smiling and joking like a completely uninjured person for such a long time with the wound gaping and untreated.

Unconciously, his movements gentled from its previous impatient and rough handling.

Clarence proceeded to patch up Mikhail and when he was finally wrapped up in bandages he said, “There. No touching water for the next 3 days and it should be good. Reapply twice more and there won’t even leave a scar.”

“Thanks, Clancy.” Mikhail smiled, amber and turquoise curving like two half moons and the left dimple showed up again.

Even Clarence paused a second, let alone the girls who watched on with shining eyes.

Scratching under his chin, Clarence asked, “You…. you’re not really homeless are you? I can drop you off in no time on my gears.”

Clarence rarely used the features on his timepiece but he had added the runes on it to allow for aerial flight even hundreds of feet off the ground. But he was confident that his creation worked even better than the Alchemist transportation objects on the market.

Clarence’s motive of chucking out the other was so obvious that even Leila looked disapprovingly at him.

“Boss, it’s nearly midnight. Besides, Mikhail is injured and needs rest. It would be bad if his wounds opened again, after all you had done to patch him up.”

On the side Mikhail also piped up pitifully, “I wasn’t lying when I said I was homeless and penniless. Clancy is the only one I can rely on.”

“Don’t call me that.” Clarence furrowed his brows in irritation. From the looks on their faces it was as if he was a puppy kicking villain.

“Fine. But you’re leaving when you’re wounds are healed. And you’re going to work for food and lodgings.” He eventually gave in but couldn’t help adding a last grumpy condition.

But the other three ignored him and Dawn eagerly went off to find blankets and pillow while Leila dug out a stash of late night snacks.

❂❂❂

It was nearly 2 in the morning by the time everyone settled in for rest.

The girls shared the only guestroom on the second floor that Clarence kept specifically for Leila and Dawn, the only ones he allowed to encroach on his private space.

Mikhail had no such concession and had to make do on the couch in the resting area of the first floor shop.

Miss Maggy curled up at his feet like a furry blanket over his ankles.

In the dark Mikhail lifted his right arm and held it up to the light of the moon which streamed in through the curtained bay windows.

On the inside of his forearm and close to the crook of his elbow a vermillion circular mark seem to glow like red embers.

He couldn’t help rubbing at it thoughtfully with the index finger on his left hand.

“Clancy Light, huh?”

Miss Maggy’s ears twitched at the low, pondering tone.

“Interesting.”

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