In the long silences of the night, when she is lying alone in bed, or working through hours of distillation or study, or on a job, Himiko thinks about Akabane Kuroudo.
They're night-time thoughts.
There's nothing sexual about it. She has no stupid urges to throw herself at him or to try to hold him or even attempt to touch him.
There's only one sort of touching he knows, and she isn't going to put herself in its way.
Perhaps her fascination is because he's so certain, so definite in what he does. He never has any questions, any second thoughts, any doubts. His precision is a single scalpel line that cuts from here to there and leaves no uncertainties behind it. It's in his face, in those dark knowing eyes shadowed by his wide hat; he is absolute and definite, and how could she not appreciate that? She herself is torn between affection for an old friend and hatred for her brother's killer. She wishes she knew what to do. Doctor Jackal doesn't wish. He simply acts.
There's something about the Tao in there, about acting according to one's nature without thought. But that should apply to natural creatures, and she's not sure that Doctor Jackal is a natural creature.
It's a pleasure to watch him. A bloody pleasure, certainly: an unhealthy pleasure: a dark pleasure: a pleasure that's quite probably dangerous, because she knows that he knows that she's watching, and she knows that the chain she holds him by, for all his polite "Lady Poison" to her professional "Doctor Jackal", is nothing more than courtesy. As long as she's technically in charge of a mission, and as long as she doesn't tell him to do anything he doesn't want to do, then of course he'll do whatever she says.
And as long as she tells him to kill people -- sorry, to test himself against people, to fight them, to get them out of the way -- then he'll certainly do whatever she says.
She gives him the fights; it's the easiest way to keep him happy.
(That's what she tells herself.)
She doesn't order him to kill needlessly.
(Of course not.)
She has got better at watching his speed: she can follow his movements now, can trace the line of the scalpel, the quickness of his hands, the smooth line of his feet and legs through the shadows of his coat. It is a sign of her own improvement in combat and skill that she's able to follow him so well.
(Follow him all the way to the spray of blood and the broken dolls he leaves behind him.)
She's not stupid. She's not fascinated. She's not going where he's going.
But she does sometimes wonder, at the moments when he smiles sideways at her from under the tilt of his hat, if he's giving her a map to that place of certainty and silence and blood.
Because he knows that she's watching, and she knows that he knows, and he knows that she knows that he knows, and in the way that such things do go, she knows where it's all going in the end.
But there's still time to turn aside. She can stop any time. She doesn't have to watch him.
(And if some part of her whispers that she knows where this leads, another part answers that she was bound there anyhow, through blood and witchcraft and her brother's death, and she may as well enjoy the view as she makes her way downwards to the Pit.)