Sleep didn’t come easily for Mai. Her dreams filled with fear and muffled begging. She woke constantly throughout the night, feeling eyes on her. Every time she woke, she looked around the room. No one else appeared to have difficulties sleeping. Between Ayako and Bou-san, Mai couldn’t tell who snored the loudest. Each time she tried to fall back to sleep, her gaze was drawn by the window looking over the garden. Once, she thought she could see yellow eyes watching them. Eventually sleep would claim her, dragging her into more unclear dreams.
When Mai woke in the morning, she could feel exhaustion pulling at her; slowing her down from her normal energetic self. Raising a hand to cover her yawn, Mai saw that the room was empty. Eh? Given that she was usually awake before Ayako, this was confusing.
Leaving the room to find the team, Mai could hear voices coming from the garage. Stepping inside, she met the sight of Bou-san wearing his monk robes. He and John, who was wearing his cossack, were discussing the best way to conduct the exorcism.
“Hey, sleepy head,” Ayako said with a smile. She waved Mai to join her sitting near a table filled with food. “I tried to wake you earlier, but you didn’t move. I had to check your breathing; you were so still.” The redhead peered into Mai’s eyes. “Did you sleep ok?”
“Not really,” Mai answered. She reached for some food and mentally battled against the fatigue. Hopefully food will help.
“I kept waking up,” She explained. “And my dreams were odd.”
“How so?” Mai jumped in her seat when Naru spoke from behind her. Geez! He needs to wear a bell or something!
“Errr...” Mai wasn’t sure how to answer. There was a niggling sense of something about her dreams, but the more she thought of them the further away they seemed.
“I…” She tried to explain the sensations. “I can’t… really. I don’t remember.” Her voice weakened at this realisation. She looked up to Naru in alarm. “I don’t remember. I know there was something I needed to share, but I can’t remember.”
Hearing the distress in her tone, everyone stopped what they were doing and looked towards her.
Being the closest, Ayako tried to calm the woman. “Hey, it’s ok.” She rubbed Mai’s arm from where she was sitting. “Trying to force yourself to remember won’t help. Relax.”
Mai was frantic. There was something she needed to share. What was it?
“Mai-chan,” Yasu was saying, “I had another look into Nagai-san’s hospital records. To see if they recorded the names of his conversation partners.”
Mai focused on Yasu. “And?”
The man shook his head. “If they were ever listed, it wasn’t in his hospital records. There’s mention of the conversations, but no names.”
Mai’s mouth twisted at that. I was so sure...
“I also looked into the murder of his mother,” Yasu continued. “You were right. She was buried behind the trees in their garden.”
Mai bit her lip. There was something wrong. Something they hadn’t prepared for.
“Mai-chan.” Bou-san looked at her in concern. “What’s wrong?”
Mai shook her head, unable to put into words the feeling of wrongness building up inside her. At her obvious discomfort, the group shared glances before returning to the conversation at hand: the exorcism.
“Hideaki-kun said that the upstairs back bedroom was Nagai-san’s favourite place,” Bou-san said. “That should be where we focus the exorcism.”
Mai frowned. No. That’s wrong.
“We’ll need Hideaki-kun to be present during the exorcism,” John said. “I don’t think Arakaki-san will agree to that, however.”
Mai’s frown deepened. No. Hideaki-kun shouldn’t have to face him again.
“It may be the only way to remove this spirit,” Bou-san argued. “Surely they’ll understand that.”
Nagai-san is angry. It’s not just Hideaki in danger anymore.
Mai’s head was pounding. She rested her head in her hands and tried to think through the pain. Above her, voices were debating the safety of having Hideaki involved.
A shrill cry cut through the air. Without stopping to think, Mai hurled herself out of the chair and towards the noise. Turning the corner to the doors leading to the garden, Mai could see Sayuri being dragged towards the trees in the yard’s back corner.
“Arakaki-san!” Mai pushed through the doors and tried to close the gap between herself and the struggling woman. As she ran, she saw Bou-san from the corner of her eye overtake her. He raced past the woman and came to a stop facing her.
As he began the Fudo Myo-O, Mai could feel the hair on the back of her neck prickling. It won’t be enough. Nagai-san is too angry.
Mai stopped her run and forced her breathing to calm. Walking forwards, Mai called out to the spirit. “Nagai-san.”
“Mai! What are you doing?!” Ayako’s voice rang out.
Mai didn’t respond. She knew she only had one chance at this. “Nagai-san. Arakaki-san is not your okaa-san.” The air near the terrified woman shimmered.
“Doing to her what your otou-san did to your okaa-san other won’t change anything,” Mai said. The space began to flicker. Small tufts of darkness appeared in the air.
“You wanted your okaa-san,” She stated. “Didn’t you, Kenta-kun?”
At this, darkness formed the shape of a man. The only feature that was clear were the yellow eyes staring into Mai.
Mai could hear the exclamations of shock and fear from others. Distantly, she noticed Bou-san help Sayuri move towards the house. She stepped closer to the dark entity.
“She tried to protect you, didn’t she?” Another step closer. “She tried to stop your otou-san from hurting you.”
Mai couldn’t hear anyone else anymore. She was so focused on Nagai.
“He got rid of your okaa-san. And then there was no one to protect you.”
The yellow eyes narrowed as she took another step forward.
“So you repeated with other boys what your father did to you,” Mai said. “You would treat them like your father treated you, and when they begged for their okaa-san you did what your father threatened you with.”
With a final step, she stood before the spirit, flashes of last night’s dreams running through her mind. “‘If you want your okaa-san so much, I’ll bury you with her.’ Right, Kenta-kun? The only reason he didn’t do that was because the police came.”
The darkness in front of her shifted. Where before there was darkness shaped like a man, now there was a young boy. His yellow eyes looked up at Mai.
“I was always naughty,” Kenta said. “Even when I tried to be good, otou-san always said I was naughty. And naughty boys need to be punished.”
Mai knelt down to be closer to the boy’s height. “But you weren’t a naughty boy Kenta-kun,” she said. “You know, I bet your okaa-san is waiting for you. You could go be with her.”
Kenta looked unsure. Mai shifted so they could both see behind her. Hideaki was clutching Sayuri, tears streaming down his face. Nobuyuki had his arms wrapped around them both.
“Kenta-kun,” Mai got the boys attention. “I have no doubt that your okaa-san is waiting for you. That she wants to see you so much.”
Kenta looked at Sayuri once more, before he disappeared. Mai could feel the air settle, but it wasn’t quite right yet. Taking a deep breath, she stood and turned to look at the watchers.
“Hideaki-kun,” She called. The boy looked up from his mother. “Do you think you could ask your friends to come say goodbye?”
Hideaki looked surprised at the request. Slowly, he let go of his mother and moved to where Mai was standing. As he called out names, young boys began to appear in the garden. There were gasps of shock from the Arakaki parents.
Taro-kun. Yoshiro-kun. Toshiaki-kun. Mai took mental notes of the names Hideaki-kun spoke. As Hideaki chattered with his friends, his parents moved towards their son and the apparitions.
Turning to his parents Hideaki said, “Kaa-san, tou-san. These are my friends!”
Sayuri looked stunned to be speaking with the spirits. Nobuyuki, however, bowed. “Thank you. For protecting my son.”
The boys became bashful. The boy with a gap between his teeth, Taro-kun, smiled. “He’s our friend. He played with us and let us watch when you played games. Besides,” the boy’s smile dropped, “no one deserves the garden.”
“You do not need to stay now,” Naru spoke. “With The Bad Man gone, you can go back to your parents.”
The boys shared excited looks. As they each gave Hideaki a hug, they disappeared.
“That was something jou-chan,” Bou-san said as they packed up base. Mai flushed at the comment.
“No, really,” he continued when she started to protest, “the rest of us were just ready to force him away. You managed to talk him down and protect Arakaki-san.”
“Your powers are really becoming something Mai,” Ayako agreed. “How did you know that stuff about his kaa-san?”
Mai paused in picking up a box of cables. “I just… knew,” she said.
Honestly, she didn’t have any other explanation. Which about sums up my powers. Sighing at the thought, she moved out to the van.
As she placed the box in the van, she felt a change in the air. Stepping away from the van, she saw Naru leaning against its side.
“Mai.” His cerulean eyes locked onto her face.
Mai didn’t respond. She didn’t know what to say. Since Naru’s return to Japan there had been several moments where words should have been spoken, and never were.
Naru pushed himself off the van and stepped toward her. As he moved, his eyes never left hers.
They stood close together, and Mai felt a small smile on her face. Taking a leap of faith, Mai gave a response to an old question. A response that was a long time coming.
“Your question was stupid, do you know?” Mai’s smile grew at Naru’s confused look. “There was only ever one answer I could give.”
Naru’s eyes took on an intensity she had never seen. At least the man’s not a complete idiot.
“What would that answer be?” he asked.
Mai raised her hand to his face.
Mai and Naru both startled at Hideaki’s call.
“Damn it!” a voice muttered from nearby. Walking around Bou-san’s car, she found its owner and Yasu both crouched behind the door. Fully able to see and hear what was happening at the van.
Oh they better not have been spying on us.
“Yasu. Bou-san.” Her growl must have been terrifying because the two men blanched.
“Onee-san!” Hideaki ran up to Mai. The two men took the chance to scurry back to the garage. Saved by a child.
Looking down at the boy, Mai’s anger at the two interlopers left. Hideaki’s grin was still contagious.
“Hideaki-kun.” Her smile matched the boys. “What’s made you so excited?”
“Kaa-san said I can get a camera! A real one!” Hideaki’s excitement grew. “She said she wants to see all my photos.”
“That’s wonderful Hideaki-kun.” Mai said.
They moved around Bou-san’s car and towards the house. Hideaki was chattering away about the types of photos he wanted to take. Just before they got to the front door, Hideaki stopped.
“Thank you onee-san,” He said in a serious voice. “You said you would make The Bad Man go away, and you did.”
“I’m glad I was able to help,” Mai said with a gentle smile. There was a loud crash, like something was dropped, that Mai spun around at. By the van, Yasu was trying to placate a livid Lin after dropping a box of equipment. Huffing a laugh, Mai saw Naru speaking with Sayuri and Nobuyuki. Moving over to the group, Mai joined them in giving farewells. She saw that Hideaki had found John and was telling him about his future camera. By the look on John’s face, the boy hadn’t given him a chance to say a word.
Mai’s amusement grew as Lin stalked into the house before he visibly calmed himself. Catching sight of where Naru was, he also moved to join their group.
“Our thanks, once again,” Sayuri said. She had some bruising on her lower arms from that morning, but the relief at knowing her family was safe made her face bright with emotion.
“It was no issue for us. Besides,” Lin replied with a small smirk, “Madoka-san would have our heads if anything happened.”
Sayuri let out a laugh. “Yes. She probably would.”
With final goodbyes given, the team split into Bou-san’s car and the SPR van. Mai sent a longing look at the car before shuffling into the van’s cab. I may love the man, but that doesn’t mean I want to be stuck in a van with him for ages.
As she sat between Naru and Lin on the long drive home, she could feel her earlier exhaustion creeping back. It wasn’t long before she fell asleep.
Waking in her Astral field, Mai was confused. The case was finished. Why was she here?
“So the idiot scientist bought a clue, huh?”
Mai went still at hearing the voice.
“By the way, they’re right you know. You did well on this case. And your powers are growing more powerful.”
She slowly turned around.