Disclaimer: I do not own Ghost Hunt.
Thursday, April 4th
Mai stood in darkness; surrounded by glowing orbs of white light that twinkled like stars, colours reflecting ever so slightly onto non-existent surfaces. On instinct, she turned around to see if Gene would show himself today. Ever since Naru had left for England, a year and nine months ago (not that Mai had been counting), it had become rare for her to see the medium. Part of her wished that this was because he'd moved on, but she already knew that wasn't the case. Since the very beginning she'd had a somewhat special relationship with both Gene and Naru that allowed her to see and understand the both of them in ways nobody else had previously; and it was through this connection that she was sure she would feel if Gene moved on into the next world. In fact, Mai was mostly sure that it was Naru's involvement in her life that had triggered the release of her abilities – a fact that he would likely agree with.
Seeing no sign of Eugene, Mai turned towards the almost screen like area of blackness that was beginning to show a picture. It would seem that today she would just have to brave the dreams without him (although a cynical part of her mind wondered if that was all that different to any other day).
Taking a deep breath, she readied herself for the dream that was to come, momentarily relieved by the fact that this wouldn't be a first-person dream. Those were the worst.
Mai observed as the scenery morphed into a manor. The walls were made of cobblestone that was covered in numerous green vines where roses grew. The little moss that covered the building added aesthetic, making it feel majestic and magical. There was a lake in the background that contributed perfectly to the amazing picture, further helped by the setting sun that painted the background orange and pink.
If it weren't for the shout of a man, Mai wasn't sure if she would have been able to snap herself from her awed state of mind. “Pay attention Mai!” she scolded herself, turning her attention to the man and woman that she hadn't noticed in front of the manor.
The woman was on the ground, hand clutching her face where it was obvious that the man above her had struck, leaving a swelling red mark.
“How dare you embarrass me in front of my family?! I told you never to speak unless spoken to!” the man bellowed.
Tears fell from the woman’s eyes. “I only told the truth!” she cried, “I refuse to allow my child to grow up under the conditions you give me.”
Sneering, the man pulled her from the ground by her hair. “What I give you is what a worthless slut like you deserves.”
Defiantly, the woman shook her head spitting towards him, saliva barely reaching his feet from the way she was held, although it was enough to garner a look of disgust and outrage from him.
“What you give me is less than what you would give to a dog. I am a human being and I don’t care what you say, my child will not grow up being treated how you treat me.” she hissed, determination and desperation clear in her eyes.
The man's face went red with anger as he threw her to the ground once more, face pulled into a mocking smile. “Your child will receive the exact treatment that she deserves. If you can't even manage to give me a male heir, then they deserve everything that I give them. And, for that matter, so do you. What is the point in a woman other than to provide gratification for a man and to give them a child to continue their line? You are nothing.”
Mai gritted her teeth at the words that fell from the man's mouth. She knew that she couldn’t do anything about the remarks but regardless, she found the need to restrain herself. “It’s already happened.” she told herself until she felt that she could handle it. Turning back to the ‘screen’ she continued to watch the scene play out.
Despite her position laid out on the dirt, the woman only laughed hysterically, pushing herself up on shaking arms. “If anything, females are the superior beings,” she declared.
It seemed as though she was going to say more but the man didn't wait to hear it. A well-aimed slap hit the woman's skin loudly, and her words turned to silence. After delivering a few more hits, his fists seemed to clench even more, showcasing the anger that was coursing through his body in that moment.
“The only reason you live now is because if you were to die, so would the child that grows inside of you. However, if you continue to defy me, I will make sure that the child you so dearly wish to give a good life finds itself in pain throughout its entire life.”
The man’s promise sent shivers down Mai spine as she covered her mouth in horror; her posture reflecting the very essence that was the woman’s face. Nodding the woman watched as her husband began to walk away only stopping briefly to call behind him. “Now hurry up. I don't have all day. Get yourself cleaned up for the guests later. I won't have you embarrassing me again.”
As the scene changed, Mai felt time skip forward. As the air around her seemed to rush, she shivered at the chill it caused her spirit's “body”. Voices surrounded her all at once, the sound of a new-born baby, the resounding of hits and slaps, screams of anguish and fury. One thing in particular stood out to Mai. The scream of that single word.
It wasn’t hard to tell what had happened as Mai stood, watching people in black shed fake tears as a show towards the loss of the mother. The gravestone was simple and read two words, “Elizabeth Wadleigh.”
Mai woke from the dream with a start, heart pounding in her chest. Her head spun slightly, and her stomach turned at the rough 'landing' her spirit seemed to make as she returned to her body once more. There was a residual anger running through her veins as she remembered everything that had occurred. Her heart ached to hold the young girl she'd heard scream, putting together that the mother had probably died in front of her child because of that man.
Pulling herself from her thoughts, not wanting to get too caught up in the emotions and then lost to them, Mai focused instead on pulling out her dream diary from the ground beside her futon. Releasing the pen from where it hung from the book, she sighed as she began to jot down every single detail she could recall from the dream. The slightly messy kana and kanji slowly filling the page before Mai sighed and set the book to the side.
Throwing the blankets from herself, she forced herself to get up. The cool tatami mats under her feet made her shiver slightly as she padded towards her bathroom to get ready for the morning.
She hadn't yet checked the time, but she was almost certain that there was no way she could get back to sleep either way.
Glancing at the mirror, Mai frowned at the sight of dark circles under her eyes; clear evidence that she'd been dreaming instead of sleeping, yet again. Her hair was a frazzled mess, serving as a good reminder that she should get a trim soon, and her nightshirt seemed to cling to her from the sweat covering her skin.
Wrinkling her nose in distaste, the brunette quickly stripped and turned on the water in the shower.
Stepping under the warm water, she allowed her thoughts to drift towards what she had to do today in an attempt to focus on anything but the scream that was still resounding in the back of her mind.
It sort-of worked.
After only a minute, Mai reluctantly turned the taps off. She still needed to jog, and it wouldn't do to use all the hot water before that.
Wrapping her towel around herself, it didn't take long to locate her jogging clothes and change. Walking around her apartment, she quickly grabbed her phone and keys before heading out; only stopping to slip into her runners and lock the door before she was off.
Noting that it was already four-thirty a.m. on her phone, Mai opted to jog through a small nearby park, stopping to practice her Qigong part way through.
The movements flowed as Mai relaxed into them, letting her mentor’s words flow through her mind.
It wasn't too long before she was making the jog back to her apartment, already glad that this day was beginning to look up (in spite of the way it had begun).
A short shower later found Mai slipping into a light blue bardot top and a pair of jeans. Grabbing her handbag, she double checked that she had everything before stepping out and locking the door.
It was a short journey as she made her way down the quiet streets to the little cafe that the team had chipped in to buy as her birthday present the previous year (despite it's position under Ayako's name until she came of age).
Spotting the sign for Little Delights, she couldn't help but smile at the memory. Everyone had been so excited; and she hadn't known what to do, or how to react.
Even though she had been apprehensive about running it, Ayako had just proclaimed that it was too late, and she didn't have a choice.
Shaking away the memories, Mai pulled out her keys and unlocked the door, stepping inside. It was already gone five-thirty in the morning. There was no time for reminiscing.
Re-locking the door after she entered to prevent unwanted people coming in, she made her way into the kitchen; hitting on the light until the sun rose higher in the sky.
Tying an apron around her waist, Mai set about the kitchen.
Heating the oven and then retrieving the pre-prepared cookie doughs from the fridge, she quickly rolled them out, cutting out the shapes and putting them onto trays, before slipping them into the oven to bake.
Changing her focus to the muffins and cakes, it wasn't long before Mai had settled into a good pace; movements fluid and sure as she moved around the kitchen, pulling out the cookies when they were done so that they could cool, and replacing them with the muffin trays.
The rustling of keys and the sound of the door opening caught Mai's attention a little later. A quick look at the time on the kitchen clock made her raise an eyebrow. She wasn't expecting anyone until later on. There was still an hour and a half until she was opening up for the day.
Walking over to the light switch, turning it off now that there was plenty of natural light, she listened out for whoever her unexpected guest was.
Blinking in surprise at the sound of Bou-san's voice, Mai sighed.
“In the kitchen!”
She was quite sure that the irritation in her tone showed how she felt about his being here so early.
“Can you come out here please?” he requested back.
Groaning a little at the distraction from her morning preparations, the brunette grumbled as she checked the muffins, happy to find them ready to be pulled out.
“Just give me a minute!” she agreed after a moment.
Slipping the chocolate cakes and vanilla cakes into the oven, she set the timer so that that they wouldn't burn while she was distracted. Checking the cookies, she nodded when she found them to be cool enough. Putting them into their designated jars.
Washing her hands quickly, she hung her apron up before grabbing two of the now full jars to take with her.
Heading to the register, she positioned the jars before walking around the counter.
“What's up Bou-san? I'm kind of busy-” Her complaint was cut off as she realised that next to Bou-san were two very familiar looking men.
She was suddenly very glad that she'd put the jars down before talking to the monk, because she was almost certain that they would have been in pieces on the ground otherwise.
“Surprise?” Bou-san joked, a bead of sweat slowly travelling down his temple. “Look who I found on my way over?”
His words fell flat, Mai's mind running a million miles a minute as she tried to figure out what to say without it coming out as a demand for an explanation.
After a moment of awkward silence, Mai tried for a polite smile, but wasn't quite sure that she managed it.
Bou-san shifted slightly, already regretting that he'd put Mai in this situation.
After SPR had shut down, it had taken a while for Mai to bounce back. They'd all done their part to help the young woman move on.
Sometimes it was hard to remember that not only was Mai still a teenager, but she was a teenager without a proper support system.
Even now, Mai wasn't quite the same (although, after so long, none of them were). She was quieter, more reserved.
Her depression was the main reason why he had considered hanging up on Lin when he'd originally gotten the call, no matter how rude that would have been. But he'd held himself together long enough to let the other man explain the situation, before curtly informing him that he would consider it, anger swayed by the severity of the situation.
He was a professional, after all. Emotions couldn't run his life, and nor should they stop him from helping out someone who needs it.
Seeing how Mai's face shut down, however, made Bou-san swallow thickly. Perhaps he should have just let it go, or at least told them that Mai couldn't make it.
Noting her friends concern, Mai shot him a smile, trying to act like everything was okay. She couldn't let another person affect her like this.
“So, am I going to get an explanation as to why I'm currently looking at my old boss and co-worker, or are you intent on starting at me until everything becomes clear?”
Letting her irritation show, Mai's foot tapped impatiently as she looked up at the other men, not in the least concerned when both Naru and Lin's seemed slightly put-out at her blatant annoyance.
“Seriously you two. I do have a shop to run, so if you aren't going to explain yourselves-”
“I'm here on official business to request some help regarding a case in England,” Naru cut her off finally, a guarded look clouding his eyes as he watched her with equal irritation.
Mai sighed, ignoring the little voice in the back of her mind saying, 'why now?', to instead focus on what that might mean.
“I'm going to need more details than that, Dr. Davis,” she pointed out, a little exasperated.
'And why does it have to be as I'm finally moving on?'
For a moment, it seemed as though Naru flinched from the use of his actual last name and title, but his expression didn't appear to have changed.
“Of course. Currently I've been placed in charge of a high profile case, and I don't trust the incompetent workers from SPR. So, when I was informed that I had my own choice of team, I thought that it would be prudent to request help from some of the people I have the most experience working with.”
Mai hummed at Naru's words, before a thought occurred to her.
“In that case, why not just call? Or is the use of a phone below the great Oliver Davis?” Mai inquired, frowning.
“I had some other things to attend to in Japan. This wasn't nearly important enough to warrant an entire flight.”
For some reason, Lin seemed to find this reasoning amusing and Mai managed to catch a small smirk before it was hidden behind a mask of indifference once more.
“Takigawa-san was kind enough to pick us up and suggested that here was the best place to find everyone,” he added after a moment.
Mai was about to inform them that they didn't actually have any plans for the group to get together that day but was cut off by the sound of the entrance bell ringing as the door sung open and Ayako stepped inside.
“Good morning, Mai.” Ayako greeted, studiously ignoring the two additions to the room as she walked over to her friend, “How are you today?”
The underlying question was obvious to Mai, further punctuated by a side-eye towards Lin and Naru that made her giggle.
“I'm fine,” she tried to reassure the other woman, despite how off balance she still felt about everything.
Disbelief was clear on the red-haired woman's features, but she notably let it go, turning to focus an unimpressed glare on Naru and Lin.
Before she could get out a single (and most likely impolite) word out, the bell chimed again, revealing John and Masako at the entrance.
“Good morning everyone,” John called out cheerfully. He stopped for a moment, a look of surprise of his features at the sight of Naru and Lin (or so Mai assumed that's what the shock was from), before he smiled warmly.
Lifting her kimono in front of her face to cover her mouth, Masako repeated a similar greeting, her soft voice travelling easily through the silence of the room.
If she was shocked by the sudden appearance of Lin and Naru, it didn't show on her face.
Her concern for Mai, however, was clear in the way her eyes immediately darted to her friend.
Noting the medium's gaze, Mai offered her a slight smile and a nod, which seemed to satisfy her just fine.
Sighing when she noted how full the cafe was becoming, Mai waved towards a table in the corner of the room, out of the way of where the rest of the guests would be sitting once she opened up.
“Go and sit down-” she started, already moving towards it so that there wouldn't be any confusion.
She didn't get too far before the bell jingled and footsteps rushed towards her.
Even as her name was still being called, the familiar weight of Yasu settled over her shoulders, unbalancing her slightly before she re-found her footing, turning her head slightly to glare at her best friend.
“Damn it Yasu! It's too early in the morning for this,” she bemoaned, fond irritation rising.
Tilting his head, Yasu smirked, lights reflecting off his glasses. “Does that mean that if it's not morning, then it's perfectly acceptable for me to do this?” he inquired.
“You know that it's not!”
A cough from Naru, and an irritated raised eyebrow made Mai roll her eyes when she spotted it.
Shaking him from her back, she gave them all a firm look.
“As I was saying, please go and sit down.”
Spotting Bou-san who was already moving to do as he was told, Ayako on his left-hand side, Yasu smirked.
“Oh Takigawa! Worry not my love! I would never cheat on you, even for the loveliest of ladies!” He exclaimed dramatically, before giving Lin and Naru an appraising look. “Or even for the handsomest men.”
Stealing a seat on the other side of Bou-san, he moved his chair closer to lean against him, fluttering his eyelashes cutely.
Giving the younger male a disgusted look, Bou-san pushed the chair further away roughly, and gave him a disapproving look.
“If you don't cut it out.” Ayako warned, “we're going to be having a very painful talk at the end of today, Osamu.”
Pouting at the use of his first name, Yasu sighed and relaxed back into his chair. He shot a wink towards Mai, who was standing beside him, now more amused than irritated.
In the background, there was a ding, and the brunette sighed. It was time to pull the cakes out so that they could cool.
“Look, I have to go and take care of some things for when I open up. I'll bring you guys out some tea, but you'll have to entertain yourselves for the moment,” she warned.
“Don't worry about us,” Ayako assured her, offering a warm smile. “Did you want a hand, at all?”
Shaking her head, Mai smiled at her friend widely. “No, no. I've got it,” she promised, before turning around and heading back towards the kitchen.
The moment she stepped into the kitchen, Mai let her eyes shut, the feelings of her panic and insecurities rearing their heads now that there weren't so many eyes on her.
Walking over to the oven, she ignored her shaking hands for the moment, and pulled out the cakes before they could burn. Testing to make sure they sprung back, she shut the oven door for the moment, placing the cakes off to the side to cool.
With the immediate issue taken care of, Mai finally allowed herself to freak out.
How was she supposed to deal with this situation? Even though time has passed by, the hurt from them leaving was still so fresh.
There were still so many questions that she would think about late into the night, keeping her from sleep.
Why had he lied to her? Why couldn't he have trusted her? Did he think that she would have revealed him? Did he really think that she was that much of a liability?
They weren't fair thoughts. She knew why he'd lied. She knew why he hadn't told her. Hadn't she already proven that she had a big mouth, especially when she'd been angered?*
And wasn't it even more true that he didn't owe anything to her? She'd chosen to put her faith and trust into the wrong person, and he'd broken her heart; leaving her stranded in a sea of her own emotions, struggling not to drown.
So, in reality, wasn't it just her own fault that this had all happened in the end?
Swallowing thickly, her eyes burned with unshed tears, and she rubbed at them carefully.
Hearing the sound of Bou-san shouting out in the cafe, Mai's lips twitched a little, the pain in her chest that had been so tight lightening, just a little.
That was right.
Even though Naru had chosen to leave, she'd still gained a family from her time with SPR, and they'd all helped her as best as they could.
Taking a deep breath, Mai focused on that instead, breathing deeply for a moment. Bringing her hands up, Mai clapped her hands to her cheeks, grounding herself with the sting.
“Enough wallowing,” she whispered to herself, emotionally exhausted, but feeling much better now then she had before.
Nodding to herself, she finally set about to preparing a couple of pots of tea, turning on the electric kettle, and preparing the tea for both pots; one earl grey and the other green.
She allowed the water to cool for a moment once it finished, letting it come down from the boiling temperature so that it was just hot before tipping it in. Humming to herself as she let the leaves steep, Mai moved instead to grab a serving tray from the cupboard, making sure there were enough cups on the tray, before adding the now steeped teas.
Before stepping back into the main part of the cafe, Mai breathed deeply, taking a moment to ground herself.
“You've got this.”
Unbeknownst to her, the small pot plants that had begun to wilt and almost flinch away from the darker thoughts clouding her emotions, slowly began to bloom on the windowsill once more.
Nodding to herself in an effort to reaffirm this thought, Mai left the kitchen, head high.
“Sorry for the wait guys,” she apologised as she made her way over to the table, grinning at John when he immediately jumped up from his seat to take the tray from her and carry it over for her.
The Australian smiled kindly. “No problem,” he promised, sliding the tray to the middle of the table.
“The red pot has earl grey, and the green one has green tea,” Mai informed, not meeting Naru's (or Yasu's) eyes when she felt their gazes on her.
Taking a seat next to her best friend, opposite Naru who sat at the other head of the table, she smiled towards Masako who was on her right-hand side.
“We were just discussing what other things Lin-san and Davis-san had to do while they were back here,” The younger girl** explained. “but now that you're back, we should discuss the reason we're all here today.”
Glancing at the time on the wall-clock, Mai frowned. “That's probably for the best. It's already eight, and I still need to get things ready. I have, maybe, fifteen minutes before I have to get the buttercream and ganache ready for the cakes.”
Yasu tilted his head, a calculating look in his eyes despite the smile that was still in place. “Surely you can afford to open a little later than usual today?” He proposed, “It's not every day that you get a visit from some old co-workers.”
Huffing, Mai shot him a disapproving look, and then shot the same look at said 'old co-workers'.
“Yes, Yasu, and if they had given me advance notice then perhaps that might have been possible, but it's much too late to give notice now. I have a regular clientele that pays your wages. I'm not about to jeopardise that. This is a business I'm running, and I'm not about to encourage unexpected visits in the future either,” she scolded.
Across the table, Ayako nodded in agreement, pride shining in her eyes. “Spoken like a true businesswoman,” she praised.
“We can catch you up with everything else when you have a moment later in the day.” Naru interjected, sensing an argument when Bou-san's mouth opened, “When do you think that'll be?”
He'd had more than enough of the petty arguments between those two so far today. How he'd forgotten how irritating they tended to be together was beyond him.
Thinking about the question for a moment, Mai took another look at the clock. “At around eleven I have another couple of workers coming in to prepare for the lunch rush. I should have some time then, if you don't mind hanging around until then. If it gets busy though, I might not have a spare moment until much later today,” she warned.
Naru glanced over at Lin before he nodded in acceptance towards her. “That will be fine.”
Content that everything was sorted for the moment, Mai pushed her seat back and stood from the table, pushing in her chair. “In that case, make yourselves comfortable. If you need anything, John and Yasu both know where everything is and can help you out.”
Thinking for a moment, she gave John a pointed look. “Yasu is not allowed near the baked goods. If you want to grab some cookies for the table, then you need to grab them. And if you want to hook up to our internet, then get John to help you. Do not ask Yasu.”
John nodded in understanding, ignoring the protests from Yasu.
Content that John was trustworthy enough, Mai smiled. “Until later then.”
Bowing slightly, she turned and made her way towards the kitchen, rolling her eyes when she heard Yasu accusing Masako of being the reason he was banned from the baked goods.
“I wasn't the one who took four cookies,” Masako sniffed primly, and the brunette could almost imagine the look of innocent propriety on her features, smug smile hidden behind her kimono sleeve.
Mai's lips twitched.
This time when she stepped into the kitchen, there was no crushing feeling of anxiety or sadness. Instead, she only felt rejuvenated.
“Time to get to work.”
*This is a reference to the 3rd case they take, The after school hexer (or the after school cursed person) where Mai reveals at the end that Naru used PK, despite being asked to keep it a secret (a scene that I personally abhor, if you wanted my opinion, because I don't find it all that in character at all. That's a personal opinion though).
**In case you guys weren't aware, Mai is actually older than Masako by 21 days.