We Weren’t Always Strangers
by Kelly Matsuura
“Good morning. ePassport and documents, please.”
“Good morning.” When he smiled back, Kiyomi felt a tingle of déjà vu but quickly dismissed it. Djinn travelers passed through immigration daily, so she’d likely scanned his ID on another visit. Still, she felt her cheeks warm, and she looked away.
She began checking his details. “Mr. Farrokh, I see you have a Permanent Resident visa. How long have you been away from Japan?”
“I stayed in Dubai … about four years.”
“Hmm, exactly four years. And now you’re opening a business in Osaka?” Kiyomi confirmed, viewing his credentials on her screen.
“Correct. A cyber-security agency.”
“Excellent. Now, can you look into the retina scanner please?”
“Thank you.” As she handed his ePassport back, his finger brushed hers. There was that shiver again … of something familiar.
He gave her a huge smile too. “Have a wonderful day.”
How odd, she mused. She must see a dozen djinn each day, and they’re all unfairly attractive; tall, sculpted, and stylish, with hot magic swirling in their eyes. Not that they could use it much. Since the World Treaty of 2022, all supernatural beings lived openly with humans, many settling in Japan. However, special implants in their necks restricted their powers.
She didn’t know any djinn personally but she always had pleasant encounters with them at work. But this djinn had a hint of mischief about him.
Shrugging, Kiyomi checked the clock. Only twenty-five minutes until she could head home to bed. The midnight-to-eight shift could be rough!
She called her next customer, and pushed the handsome stranger out of her mind.
Agharid stood at the curb, whistling an old tune. It was great to be back in Japan!
His driver, Takeo, pulled up in a luxury solar car, and came around to open the door.
“Excuse me, Mr. Farrokh?” A woman’s soft voice asked.
Agharid turned and smiled, recognizing the pretty immigration agent. “Hello again.”
She only frowned. “This is the taxi bay. You should have your driver meet you in the limousine parking area,” she explained.
Agharid feigned embarrassment. “I’m sorry. Well, seeing as there are no taxis here right now, may I offer you a lift? I wouldn’t mind a scenic drive around the city.”
Kiyomi shook her head. “Thank you, but I couldn’t …”
Takeo stepped forward, eyeing her ID badge. “Ms. Ishikawa, I’m a former detective with the Kyoto police. I can guarantee your safety with Mr. Farrokh.”
“You’re ex-police?” Her whole demeanor changed. “Me too! In Yokohama prefecture.”
“What a coincidence!” Agharid commented. “Please then, I insist you let us drive you.”
“Very well,” Kiyomi agreed, and settled in the backseat.
As they left the airport, Agharid turned to his special guest. “What would you like to drink?”
“Excuse me? There’s no …”
Before she could finish, Agharid rubbed his hands together, and produced a glass of vegetable juice with a celery stick. “A Virgin Mary?”
She laughed, a delightful sound!
“Perfect, thank you.” She took a sip, and her shoulders visibly relaxed. “Is it okay to use magic for beverages?”
Agharid waved off her concern. “It’s harmless. I can’t sell it to you but I can provide basic needs for myself and guests.”
“How interesting! What else can you do?”
“Well …” Agharid produced a two-thousand-yen note, and passed it to her.
“What is this?” Kiyomi giggled. “Two-thousand-yen notes were taken out of circulation years ago. And I think people might notice that your face is on the note?? This is not legal tender.” She waved it in front of him, still laughing.
Agharid held her hand steady. There was a definite buzz between their skin as they touched.
“Keep it, please.”
“The serial code is my phone number,” he admitted.
Kiyomi peered closer at the note. “Ah!”
“You might want to take me to dinner sometime,” he flirted, thoroughly enjoying her company.
“I … will put this somewhere safe,” she teased back.
“So, you were a cop?” Agharid asked.
Sipping her juice for a second, Kiyomi paused. “I was. For seven years.”
“That’s not so long.”
“No, it’s not. But I got injured, and couldn’t handle going back to field work,” Kiyomi said, her smile fading. “I was undercover that last year,” she added.
Agharid took her hand. “A hard decision for you.” He casually inspected the now-faint scar across her cheek but didn’t mention it.
“It’s okay. I like my job now.”
“And you’re safe,” Agharid whispered. Damn, his throat was so tight! He conjured himself a glass of apple juice, and took a deep draw.
“That chip in your neck, does it hurt?” Kiyomi asked, pointing to the soft red glow under his skin.
He shook his head. “I forget it’s there.”
“What do you miss the most about using all your magic?”
“Hmm, I guess sometimes I miss teleporting myself wherever I need to be. Not today though.” He watched her cheeks blush adorably.
For the rest of the trip into the city, they enjoyed getting to know each other.
“Why …” Kiyomi hesitated.
“Why do I feel like I know you? Oh, forget it, it’s silly.”
Agharid chuckled. “No, it’s lovely.”
“For the record. We don’t know each other?”
“No, we’re just two strangers, sharing a car ride.” Their gaze held for a moment, and Agharid’s heart swelled. That feeling; that connection, had been worth the long wait.
The car came to a halt.
“Ms. Ishikawa, we’ve arrived at your apartment building,” Takeo announced.
“Thank you.” Kiyomi looked at the fake money in her hand again.
“Today we’re strangers but maybe we’ll become friends?”
With that, she got out of the car, and Takeo saw her to the entrance, leaving Agharid to catch his breath.
When Takeo returned, he didn’t start the engine right away.
“Why didn’t you tell her the truth?”
“Why didn’t you keep the partition up like I instructed?” Agharid snapped. “I apologize. That was rude.”
“It’s alright,” Takeo accepted. “But why didn’t you tell her that you saved her life?”
“Because it’s better that she forgets what she went through.”
Kiyomi believed that she’d been left for dead by the gang she had infiltrated. What she didn’t remember was that they worked for an unchipped incubus who entranced her with his dark magic. Agharid, spying on the incubus for his own purposes, soon realized that Kiyomi wasn’t a willing accomplice. Agharid had then vowed to get her out, at any cost.
“You spent four years exiled and in fae prison for that girl. I don’t know anyone who would do that for a stranger. How did you even use that much magic? Don’t those chips work at all?”
“Oh, they work. They just turn you to stone once you dial it up over an unacceptable limit,” Agharid explained. “And that’s why I saved her, and didn’t kill that incubus instead.”
Being frozen had been excruciating but the last thing he saw before blacking out was Kiyomi’s warm brown eyes opening and locking into his.
A month later, Agharid had woken from his stone-sleep to gaze into the eyes of his loki cell mate … but that was another story.
“You’re going to tell her eventually, aren’t you?” Takeo persisted.
“Maybe.” Agharid looked out the window, and pictured walking hand-in-hand with Kiyomi along the canal or in the beautiful Osaka castle grounds one day. He didn’t think he required magic for that to become a reality. Just patience.
“I’ll tell her when I’m no longer a stranger,” he promised.
Kelly Matsuura writes diverse YA, fantasy, and literary fiction. She is the creator of Insignia Stories (Asian fantasy-themed blog & anthologies), and has had stories published with Ink & Locket Press, A Murder of Storytellers, Black Hare Press, Harbinger Press, and many more.
Kelly lives in Nagoya, Japan with her geeky husband. She loves traveling, knitting, cooking, and of course, reading.