Disclaimer: I do not own Ghost Hunt
Thursday, April 4th
It was just under three hours later when Mai's additional workers showed up, who immediately placed their things in the staff room connected through the kitchen before getting to work.
Smiling at Hana, a woman in her early twenties who had been the first person Mai ever hired, Mai allowed her to take over her position at the register.
Switching to the teas, Mai set about getting the orders ready to go before her other worker appeared, smiling at her.
“I can take over Mai-san,” Erika offered, already moving to do exactly that.
Mai raised an eyebrow in silent question.
“It's quiet enough that Hana and I can handle things. There seem to be a group of mostly familiar individuals looking at you rather expectantly for the moment.”
Sighing, Mai nodded. “Okay, okay. I'll go take care of things then. Give me a shout if you need a hand. I have Riko coming in at twelve as well to help with things,” she informed.
Erika nodded in understanding before making a shoo'ing motion with her hands. “Off with you.”
Rolling her eyes at her employee, Mai quickly washed her hands and dried them before heading towards the back-corner table where the others were sitting.
She sighed when she watched Ayako whack Bou-san for whatever comment he'd just made.
Most likely something to do with her age, considering the angry flush on her face.
When would he ever learn?
Her eyes travelled over to Yasu who was happily shoving an entire cookie into his mouth.
“You enjoying that?” she greeted, mildly amused.
He nodded in response, grinning around his full mouth.
Why did she even bother?
Turning to Naru and Lin (and wasn't that still a surreal thought?) as she took a seat, Mai smiled.
“So, who wants to catch me up on everything you've managed to discuss?” she asked, glancing around the table.
“We're mostly trying to figure out who can afford to get the time off of work on such short notice*,” Bou-san explained. “Ayako thinks she should be able to sort something out and Masako has nothing scheduled. John thinks it should be fine, and I'm all good as well. We're basically just waiting to hear from you.”
Mai hummed in understanding, looking towards Naru inquisitively. “When would we be leaving? I can't just up and leave the store without organising for someone who I can trust to take over management and all of the opens.”
“The sooner, the better. Sometime at the beginning of next week at the latest,” Naru informed. “Will that be enough time to find someone?”
Before Mai could respond, Yasu cut in with a scoff. “Mai knows exactly who to ask. Hana and Erika have both been preparing to take over for the past few months. It's only a couple of weeks before we were supposed to leave for England in the first place. It's just a case of letting them know so that they can sort out how your current shifts are going to be split.”
Ayako nodded in agreement. “Both of them would love the extra money at the moment as well, so I’m sure they won't mind the short notice,” she pointed out, when Mai still looked unsure.
Gnawing at her lip, Mai nodded finally. “That's true I suppose... I'll speak with them about it later on, and we'll see what they say. If they say no then I'll have to figure something out, though.”
Naru nodded in understanding. “That's fine. I'll wait until tonight to finalise everything then,” he agreed, not allowing his mild irritation to show at the idea that Mai might not be able to make it.
Even more irritating was the way they were talking about leaving a couple of weeks early, almost like they'd been planning to go to England already. He hated being uninformed, and despite knowing that it was his own fault that he knew nothing – he was the one who hadn't left her with his contact information after all- he couldn't help the emotion.
As it was, he had been hopeful that Mai, at least, would be keen to come to England for a case; even if she no longer had any interest in the subject of parapsychology. He resolutely ignored the fact that he'd know the answer to that if he'd just left her with his contact information.
“What do you mean it's only a few weeks before you were supposed to leave for England?”
Naru glared at Yasu as he pushed his glasses up, smiling widely, a touch of smugness in his tone.
“Leave for Cambridge of course!” He exclaimed, voice practically screaming 'duh', like it was something he should have known. “Japan doesn't offer any parapsychology courses, so obviously if we're going to need to attend a foreign school, we'll aim for the best.”
An unfamiliar feeling of warmth bloomed in Naru's chest as the shock of Yasuhara's words began to subside; before he squashed it down. Why the hell was he so happy about something like this?
“I'm shocked that you managed to make it in with grades like yours,” he teased finally, resorting to the only thing that felt right in this situation.
The brunette in question huffed, her cheeks puffing out as her cheeks turned red with anger. “You stupid jerk! I'll have you know that I topped my class in every subject before I graduated!” she exclaimed proudly.
She opted not to mention how many lessons that she'd needed from Yasu and how hard he'd worked to catch her up on class work after the Summer holidays** had ended the year Naru had left. He didn't need to know that.
“I do have to wonder if that's true considering the lack of change in your vocabulary,” he baited, referring to the familiar insults. He smirked as her face only got redder, anger rising just like he remembered.
“Would you feel better if I insulted you in English instead you damn narcissistic jerk?”
The sudden change in language shocked him for a moment, but the switch came easily.
“I see you've finally learnt a skill that will actually be useful in real life.”
It was an easy bait, and it hid his off-kilter feeling easily as he struggled to add English to the list of things Mai knew. There were so many new things that he did know or understand about her, and it was weird for him to think of all the things that he'd missed.
Mai rolled her eyes at the comment, reminding herself that he was just baiting her for his own amusement. The concept was simple enough, but it was still hard to stop herself from reacting whenever he said something like that. He knew just how to get under her skin to get the reaction, and wasn't that the biggest problem?
Naru knew her. And yet he'd still...
She stopped that thought before it could fully mature, changing tracks quickly. Now really wasn't the time for another breakdown. Nor was it the correct company for one.
“Of course I'm fluent in English now. I don't know how you would have expected me to go to Cambridge University, in England, where they speak English, with anything less,” she managed to throw back after a beat, pushing her prior thoughts as far from her mind as possible.
Lin noted absently that the change in language didn't seem to be bothering anyone else, which was interesting. It was likely to be useful, given Noll hadn't even really considered the possible issues with a team of mostly non-English speakers in an English-speaking country; outside of commenting that the only people they'd need to communicate with would be themselves anyway.
It was a novel situation to be in, watching from the sidelines as Mai and Noll threw comments at each other, back and forwards, similar to how things had been in the past.
The time apart didn't seem to have changed as much as he'd feared, and he couldn't help but feel grateful for that.
There were changes of course. Not a single individual at their table was the same as they had been before he'd left with Noll, but there didn't seem to be too many personality changes.
Before they'd left, Noll and Mai had been awkward in a way that they'd never been before, not even when they'd first made their acquaintance, and he'd worried that that awkwardness might have become even stronger. To his relief, however, Mai already seemed to have melted from the icier demeanour she'd projected earlier that day and his charge was becoming more and more lively.
It was unlikely that the younger man had noticed, but it had been clear to Madoka and himself, and then a little later Noll's parents, that he hadn't been the same since he'd returned from Japan the first time. He'd been even quieter and more reserved, always working, studying, or focusing on something.
He knew that Martin and Luella had convinced themselves that it was because of Gene's death, and that they were doing their best to be tactful about their worry, but neither of them had been in Japan. They hadn't seen Noll slowly overcome the pain he felt at his brother's passing.
They hadn't seen how different he was in Japan, and Gene had been dead then as well.
He'd always assumed that the real reason for his mood had been the fact that England wasn't where Mai had been. Gene and the lack of freedom might have been part of it, but Mai had always been the one person who could shake Noll.
Before Japan, Lin had never seen Noll react like that to anyone.
And since they'd left, he'd never seen it again.
He had known that he'd been right from the moment that they'd seen Mai once more, but their interactions in this moment really cemented that belief.
Smirking internally, Lin had to wonder if Noll even realised just how strongly he reacted to Mai's presence.
He'd wager that his charge hadn't even considered the possibility.
At some point during his distraction, the group had (miraculously) managed to get themselves back onto the original topic, and it seemed that they were discussing what they might need, and how long the trip was likely to be.
“Let's try to keep you out of trouble for this one, alright?” John joked slightly, looking up for his notes with excitement on his face.
There was a collective wince around the table, and Ayako shot Mai a suspicious look.
“That reminds me, are you allowed to be going anywhere? I haven't spoken to you in person for a few days, so I haven't gotten an update on your previous injuries. I know you said that there was nothing major, but I really would feel better if you were to give me an all-clear from the doctor. You injured your ankle before as well, didn't you?” she worried.
Rolling her eyes at the mothering tone that her friend was using, she couldn't help but smile slightly. “Don't worry. The doctor cleared me of all my injuries, including my ankle yesterday,” she assured.
Naru raised an eyebrow at the new information, looking at Mai intensely, this time any sign of injury. Even though injuries on the brunette were nothing new, a part of him felt unnecessarily guilty for not being there to prevent the cause of the injury.
“Injuries?” He inquired, when no-one seemed like they were going to elaborate further.
Like a switch being flicked, the happiness drained from the room, replaced by matching forlorn looks.
“I'll go get some more tea. You all must have finished it already. Especially given Naru over there,” Mai joked, ignoring the way it seemed to fall flat.
Gathering the tray from the table, she carefully weaved through the other customers seated inside the cafe and made her way into the kitchen once more.
It was a moment before anyone spoke, seemingly gathering their thoughts.
“After you left, we each still took various cases and sometimes we'd get together to help each other out. Mai doesn't come along as often as she used to, but if the days line up with when she can afford to leave the store alone and come with us, then she never gives up the chance,” Ayako started.
“Just over a week ago, we finished up one of the more... dangerous cases that we've had since you two left. Mai came out of a three-day kidnapping with malnourishment, severe dehydration, and some cuts that needed stitches. There was her sprained ankle as well, that put her on crutches for a few days after. She's good on them though, didn't even blink,” Bou-san continued, grinning wryly at his own joke.
It was something he tried not to think about – how well she'd used the crutches. The doctor hadn't even bothered to try and tell her about them, just handing over the set to her with a look of reluctant acceptance that made him think that this wasn't the first time that she'd dealt with this doctor.
The parting words of the doctor had made him think that it was unlikely to be the last time either.
Naru's eyebrows drew together slightly, the guilt even stronger now that he knew that a case had caused this.
“Surely you wouldn't all look this upset over it still if it was that simple. What else happened?” He demanded, sensing that he was missing certain pieces of the puzzle.
“We would also like to know that,” Masako informed him; voice soft but there was worry in its undertone.
His frustration rose a little, and Oliver forcibly stopped himself from becoming too annoyed. “Explain.”
Ayako sighed. “What Masako means, is that we don't know what else happened while she was kidnapped. Mai won't talk about it. She seems fine, all things considered, but whenever we bring up the case, she goes quiet and she won't talk to us.”
The frustration in her tone was reflected on everyone's faces.
“Leave it alone,” Yasu stated finally. “Mai's troubles are her own, and she'll talk about them when she's ready.”
Before anyone could argue with that, Yasu was pushing up from his seat and moving to take the tray from Mai (just like John had earlier) who had reappeared.
He leaned over to say something to Mai, and her mouth formed a single word back, although Naru couldn't make out what it was.
“Are you sure that you'll be okay for this case, Taniyama-san?” Lin inquired, not bothering to hide the small worry that he felt. He didn't want to drag her into more danger, especially so soon after she'd just recovered.
Not even seeing Noll in a better mood was worth that.
Smiling at the concern, Mai nodded. “Don't worry. Like I said, I've been cleared by my doctor and I feel fine,” she assured him, although it felt as though it was also directed at the other occupants of the table.
Glancing away from them all as the bell began to ring more frequently, Mai sighed. Nodding towards Riko, who had appeared ten minutes ago now, and was motioning for a hand, she turned back to her friends.
“It was great seeing you all today, but I need to get back to work. Bou-san can give you my new contact information and you can let me know the date and anything else I need to know that way,” she informed Naru and Lin, before she bowed slightly, and power-walked through the cafe, immediately settling into a pace with her workers.
Watching her start to rush around for a moment, everyone smiled slightly.
Scribbling on a piece of paper, Bou-san held it out towards Naru a moment later. “This is Mai's current number.”
Nodding in response – the closest thing the monk have ever gotten to a thanks from the other man- Naru tucked it away in his jacket pocket.
“Well, we should be getting out of here,” Ayako mentioned. “I'll see you all soon enough.”
Bou-san stood from the table, offering her a hand as she got up as well.
“See you all soon.”
With that, the two of them were out the door.
Masako, John and Yasu all offered a similar sentiment, smiling a little in apology for their sudden departure.
It was silent between them for a moment, before Lin turned to his charge with an inquisitive look.
Understanding the silent question, Oliver shook his head. “I'm going to stay here and use the internet to sort out some emails and work. You can go and take care of any of the various tasks that father left to you,” he informed.
Lin didn't look like he was buying for a second, giving Naru a pointed look. “Let me know when you want to be picked up.”
Despite what Mai had expected, throughout the second half of the day Naru had stayed at the table in the back corner and kept to himself for the entire afternoon; barely moving at all while he worked away at something.
He'd long finished the refilled pots of teas, and since then Erika had taken it upon herself to refill his cup for him every now and then.
Groaning as she rolled her shoulder, aching slightly from the constant serving and making of tea, Mai offered Erika a smile, the door shutting behind their last customer of the day.
Flipping the sign to now show 'Closed', the two of them set about wiping down tables, and making sure that everything was clean.
When she was satisfied that everything was ready to go for the next day, Mai smiled towards Erika, who had disappeared five minutes earlier to grab her things.
“I'm off Mai. I'll see you tomorrow.”
“Thanks for your hard work!” Mai called to her, waving goodbye.
As the door clicked shut, Mai turned to the final table that needed to be fixed up for tomorrow.
Walking over to Naru, she collected the teacup he'd been using, rolling her eyes when he didn't even spare her a look.
“You'll need to consider packing up shortly, Naru. You can't sit there all night and I'm about to finish up,” she informed him, not waiting for a response before she went to wash up the cup.
A few minutes later, she reappeared, her bag slung over her shoulder.
To her relief, Naru had already collected his things, and he didn't waste a second getting up from his seat and heading over to her.
Setting the alarm, Mai stepped out the door and quickly locked everything up, before turning and letting out a sound of surprise when she came face to face with Naru's chest.
How had she managed to forget that he was here?
“What are you still doing here anyway?” she grumbled, fighting the feeling of embarrassment despite the heat she could feel spreading over her cheeks.
The look she got in response was condescending, and for a moment, she wondered if that would last past her stepping on his foot.
“I thought that would be obvious,” he scoffed. “You shouldn't be walking around of your own at this time of the night.***” He insisted.
“I can take care of myself,” Mai informed him shortly, attempting to step around him so that she could get home.
Within the next few seconds, she felt her foot hit a rock and could already feel the pull of gravity that was sure to make her crash to the ground.
Luckily, or not so luckily given her previous point, Naru noticed immediately and had no problem pulling her back up and righting her.
“I'm more worried that you'll get yourself killed without the help of anyone else,” he teased; voice uncomfortably close given their proximity.
Shivering – though not from the cold – Mai stumbled away from him quickly, ignoring the amused incredulity she could sense from Naru as she nearly fell once more.
“I'm fine,” she repeated.
This was further punctuated as she turned heel and began to walk home, not commenting when she heard Naru's footsteps begin to fall behind her.
His longer strides easily kept up with her somewhat fast pace.
Neither of them spoke for the rest of the journey, though it wasn't as awkward of a silence as Mai would have expected.
It just served as a harsh reminder of their shared past. Of how Naru was the first one to anger her, but also the only one who could just easily calm her.
They had gotten comfortable around each other, and with nothing to say in this moment, that comfort was showing in their silence.
Mai didn't like that.
They weren't comfortable anymore. Or rather, they shouldn't be.
It should be awkward right now. It should be strained and harsh, should be-
Mai didn't know how it should be. But, however it should be, it shouldn't be like this.
Her mental debate was halted as they made it to her apartment complex, and she shook them away in favour of seething at how Naru followed her into the lobby and then up to her floor.
Continuing down to the end of the hall, she sighed when he made no signs of leaving, even as she unlocked her door and let it swing open.
For a moment, she considered slamming it shut in his face – and although the image in her mind was satisfying, she reigned it in.
“Since you're already here, you might as well come in for tea,” she offered finally, sighing in exasperation.
Naru nodded in agreement, trying not to let the subtle feeling of victory show.
Mai hadn't thrown him out just yet, and he was even getting more tea.
Of course, he'd had plenty of tea that day so far, but after so long without it he could hardly be expected to give up another chance. Slipping his shoes off, he stepped onto the tatami mats and glanced around, trying not to appear too curious.
“Make yourself comfortable. I'll be back in a minute.”
After Mai disappeared into (what he assumed was) the kitchen, Oliver let himself take a seat on the equally small couch, lips twitching slightly as he examined everything. The cosy set up reminded him so much of Mai.
The brunette re-appeared a moment later and he accepted the tea without a word, smirking when it won him a (fond?) eye roll.
Taking a seat in the only recliner in the room, diagonal from his own spot on the couch, Mai sighed. “Why are you here, Naru?” She asked, exhaustion beginning to settle in her now that she had a moment to sit down.
It took a moment for Naru to respond, gathering his thoughts slowly before he spoke. “I wanted to... apologise,” he started, ignoring the startled look on Mai's face. “It was a tough time when I left here, but it was abrupt and not at all fair to you.”
It was hard to find the words to express his regret at everything, and Mai seemed to understand, because she was smiling softly at him. There was a maturity in her look that was foreign to him, but it offered the same feeling that he'd always appreciated.
He hadn't realised how tight his chest had been all day, concerned by the cold way he'd been greeted, until this moment now when it slackened, and he could feel a small blooming warmth spread through him.
Mai gave him her full attention, letting him continue speaking.
“I'm sorry,” he finished finally, unable to figure out how to put any more of his thoughts into words, let alone sentences.
“I forgive you,” Mai responded finally. “It took me a while, but I got over everything. Life's hard Naru, and despite everything, the year and a bit that I worked for you gave me some of my happiest times.”
Her voice was soft, and Naru couldn't help but wince slightly at her blasé response to how harsh life could be. It was something he'd long since come to understand, but the cynicism of the thought didn't suit the Mai he'd come to know.
'Why not?' A voice in the back of his mind asked him. 'She's been through so much, why shouldn't she be cynical every now and then?'
It was a fair point, and Oliver figured that he'd have plenty of chances to remind himself of it in the future, given Mai's future at Cambridge.
“If you don't mind. It's getting late and I need to get to bed,” Mai stated finally, breaking Naru from his thoughts.
Placing the now empty cup on the table, he nodded in acceptance. “Of course,” he agreed, before smirking a little. “You look like you could use some beauty sleep.”
It was an easy tease, and he slipped out the door while Mai's tired brain fought to catch up.
“You narcissistic jerk!”
*So, obviously this is really short notice, since for most jobs you need at minimum two weeks notice for days off, let alone an entire week, but I also want to make a note that a sudden trip is very very uncommon in Japan. According to my teacher, they actually rarely take holidays, even though they have the proper 'accumulation' for it. The reason for this is how much extra work is leaves for other people, and how much more you have to do when you get back. It's just easier to stay home and not bother.
**Naru discovered Gene's body in Summer, so I place it in mid-Summer, which is July. Just after that, the Japanese Summer holidays begin, running from around the 20th of July to the end of August.
***I just want you guys to note that this style of thinking isn't common to Japan and somewhat shows Naru's English roots. Japan is incredibly safe and walking around at what would be around seven o'clock at night in story time wouldn't even register as late for Mai. This is me speaking from not only what other people have told me but also my own experiences from being in Japan.