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The Cases of London

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Disclaimer: I do not own Ghost Hunt

Chapter Key:

“English Speaking”

“Japanese Speaking”

'Thinking'

Chapter Thirty-Three

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Saturday, May 10th

With the two of them working at a quick pace (both evidently used to picking up after others) it wasn’t long before they were down to just running a cloth over the table to remove any crumbs.

The silence was somewhat tense, and Mai could feel the way Lin’s aura seemed to be screaming to ask her something. But as time ticked by and they got closer and closer to re-joining the main group, Lin still didn’t ask.

Fed up, Mai turned to look over at Lin as he pushed the final chair in – room looking as good as it had before they’d arrived.

“Lin-san, if you have something to ask me you should just say it.”

His aura seemed to scream shock before it re-settled into the calming presence she’d unknowingly come to rely on.

“I forgot that you could do that. Do you not need to be actively reading my aura, though?” Lin asked.

Humming Mai couldn’t help the slight smirk on her face. “For a man who doesn’t emote much on the surface, your aura is actually rather revealing. Your aura is practically screaming your emotions today – it’d be harder to ignore,” she mused. “But you’re dodging the question.”

Embarrassment. Interesting.

Mai waited for a moment, exiting the room to return the cloth to the nearby kitchenette. It didn’t take Lin long to follow after her.

“I was just wondering if- well- Is Zheng-lao shi always like this? He’s much livelier than I expected,” Lin trailed off.

Glancing over her shoulder at Lin, Mai couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled. Never was there a day that she thought she’d hear Lin asking question like a teenager who’s just met their idol.

Sensing that her laughter had put him on edge (not to mention the very unamused glare he was offering her now), Mai cleared her throat. “I suppose that depends on who you are. I have been told that I bring out the worst in him though, so I doubt that he’s always so unprofessional,” she explained. “It helps that we’ve gotten close since I see Zheng-lao shi every year in the Summer holidays.”

“What’s it like to be his student?”

Mai’s brows furrowed at she considered this. “I’m not sure what you’re asking. It’s good?”

Quirking a lip at her confusion, Lin hummed. “Rather, what’s it like to learn from him?” he rephrased.

Letting out a small noise of understanding, Mai titled her head. “Zheng-lao shi is very different when we’re learning. He’s much more serious when we’re working on my Qigong and my training. He’s also rather observant – he’s always paying close attention so you can’t get anything past him. It’s always hard work and he pushes hard, but the results are always significant and worth it.” Shrugging, she offered a slightly hopeless look. “I hope that answers your question.”

Lin nodded. “Indeed. I’m still a little shocked that he took you on,” he considered.

Wincing, Mai glanced to the side a little guiltily. “Well, uh, there’s a little more to it than he explained…” she trailed off.

He didn’t push, but Mai could feel the intrigue in Lin’s aura. Biting her lip, she considered.

“Originally, it was a one-off. Zheng-lao shi taught me some basic movements of Qigong and we spent the afternoon together making sure I had them perfect. But that was meant to be it. He said he might check my progress while I was still staying there a couple of times but was content to leave me be.”

Raising an eyebrow, Lin prompted her to continue with a small noise.

“Did I ever mention why I went to Mount Koya in the first place?”

Thinking back to what he knew, Lin nodded. “In the Summer after we left, you said you were struggling to control your powers.”

Mai nodded, worrying her lip between her teeth. “About a week after you guys left, I started dreaming again. And not just a couple of time, but every night. And more than once. By the end of the week I hadn’t been able to fall asleep even once. Bou-san came by to check on me and found me half asleep, in the middle of falling into another psychic dream.”

If felt like something cold was being poured over Lin’s body, chilling him to the core. Why hadn’t anyone contacted them to ask for help?

As if reading him again – and maybe she was – Mai smiled a little unsurely. “We didn’t want to bother you all while you were grieving for Gene. And I was fine, really! Tired, but it was fine.”

Lin fought the urge to shake Mai. That was so very not fine, on every level. When Noll found out about this, he was going to be uncontrollable.

“Seriously, Lin-san. It was fine, and it all worked out. It didn’t take long for the monks to help me gain control over my dreams. And they put me in a warded room to protect me from dreaming while I was there, so I was able to catch up on sleep as well. Not to mention the amazing teacher I got out of it all. It’s fine, I promise.”

Seeing that it was going useless to argue further, the stoic man nodded finally. “If you ever need anymore help…” he trailed off, unsure of how to finish that offer, feeling a little awkward over the situation he’d put himself in.

Lips stretched impossibly wide; Mai grinned. “I’ll let you know if I ever do,” she promised, “now we’ve already miss half of the seminar by now. We’d better hurry if we plan to catch the rest.”

It isn’t until they’re slipping into the back of the group that Lin realised that Mai didn’t finish explaining how Zheng-lao shi had gone from a one-time teacher to her yearly instructor.

 

Most of the afternoon flashed by in a haze of information sharing on Zheng’s part and learning for everyone else. As everyone filed out for the evening, wishing him goodbye, they were left in a somewhat quieter building.

“So, when’s dinner supposed to be?” Yasu asked, peering over at Martin.

Glancing down at his watch, Martin winced. “If we want to make it on time and avoid being scolded, we’ll have to get a move on.”

“Dinner?” Mai asked faintly, head titled.

Naru rolled his eyes at her. “Yes, Mai. The dinner that my father invited everyone to join us for. Which you would be aware of if you and Lin hadn’t been gossiping for twenty minutes.”

Spluttered, Mai flushed. “Lin-san doesn’t gossip!” was all she managed to say to defend herself.

Madoka winked from across the room, seemingly aware of something that Mai wasn’t given the looks she casted at Naru for a split second. “Don’t worry Mai. Lin’s gossiping habits are reserved for only his favourite people.”

Catching on, Yasu grinned. “Must be. I’ve never heard Lin-san gossip before.”

Mai lamented her friends with some confusion. “But we weren’t,” she insisted. “We were having a productive discussion over relevant information.”

Raising a brow, Naru cast an unwavering look at her. “Well, in that case I’d love to hear what you spoke about.”

Sensing that things were about to digress into a classic Mai and Naru argument, Martin intervened with a placating smile, even going so far as to step between them. “Didn’t I just say that we would be late to dinner if we didn’t head out? You two can save the verbal sparring for the night. We have a guest Oliver. Imagine how appalled your mother would be to hear that you’re acting like this.”

There were no visible signs of him being cowed, but Naru did refrain from further comments as they all headed out.

“I’ll ride with Madoka and Lin-san,” Yasu offered as they reached the parking-lot. “It’ll be a little squishy if we all pile into the same car. Who knows, maybe Lin-san will even be willing to gossip if it’s just us.”

Given the increasingly annoyed look Lin was shooting the younger man for the repeated joke, Mai was dubious. But she let him go anyway, content to have a small break from whatever nonsense he and Madoka were up to now.

To her surprise, after she slid into the backseat, Naru slid in from the other side.

Noticing her look, he smirked. “Really Mai, do you think that my father would allow our guest to sit in the backseat?”

Huffing, Mai had to admit that Naru was right. “I’m sure he would have survived,” she muttered, sticking her tongue out at Zheng when he winked at her over the seat.

Why was everyone being so weird this afternoon?

“I’m still waiting to hear about what you and Lin were conversing about so diligently,” Naru informed quietly as the car started up.

Martin and Zheng in the front seat paid neither of them any mind, content to discuss something to do with religion.

“It’s nothing super exciting, Naru,” Mai rolled her eyes. “We were just talking about how I became a student of Zheng-lao shi’s and what it was like.”

“That sounds like gossiping.”

Huffing, Mai bit her lip. “It might have been a little like gossip. But Lin-san’s a big fan of Zheng-lao shi’s – who knows why. I was happy to answer his questions. Why’s it such a big deal anyway?”

Naru didn’t offer a response to that, turning to look out the window instead. “It’s not. I just think it would have been prudent for the two of you to take advantage of the chance to listen to the entire lecture.”

“It was recorded though? I know that your father is going to be showing it in our next class, and that means Lin-san can totally get a copy to watch as well,” she pointed out.

Seriously, what was Naru’s deal today.

“It’s nothing.” It was a rather final statement and for the rest of the journey he ignored every attempt Mai made at conversation, seemingly deep in thought over something.

As they pulled up at the Davis’ mansion, the pout Mai had been wearing fell away and she smiled softly. At least here was never weird.

“You’re doing it again,” Zheng observed.

Glancing over at him, Mai tilted her head. “Doing what?”

Her teacher’s eyes were calculating before he closed his eyes, presumably trying to feel what Mai was. “The air is peaceful. But tell me, Mai-chan, how well can you sense it.”

Shrugging, Mai huffed at the unexpected impromptu lesson. “Well enough? I’m at the point where I can read the lay of the land with my eyes closed, if that’s what you’re wondering…” she trailed off.

Zheng didn’t respond as to whether this was what he was looking to know, even as he re-opened his eyes. “That does remind me, I should do a reading of you before I return home.”

Mai nodded in agreement. “I did have a couple of questions,” she admitted, thinking back to when Naru was on the first case since she’d arrived.

Lips quirking, Zheng nodded. “Takigawa-san mentioned you might have.”

Stepping out of the car, Mai rolled her eyes. “Bou-san should mind his own business,” Mai sniffed in her best attempt of a Masako.

 “Ooo, are we doing impressions. My John-san impression is perfect,” Yasu greeted, walking over from where Lin had parked just beside them.

Glaring at them, Naru motioned towards where Luella was waiting patiently in the doorway for them to notice her. “I believe there will be time for conversation while we eat.”

In other words, stop dawdling and get inside.

Filing, in, Mai grinned as she was dragged into a hug with Luella.

“Mai, it’s been so long since I saw you last,” Luella complained.

“I saw you last weekend,” Mai protested, unable to help the warmth she felt from being wanted.

Luella pouted. “That was a week ago Mai. I’ve missed you.”

Laughing, Mai let herself be dragged along into the dining room that had become as familiar as her own bedroom on campus.

“It’s okay Luella. Mai will probably stay the night here anyway since tomorrow is Sunday. And I’ve managed to convince her to go out tomorrow night, remember?” Madoka cut in, grinning.

At their excitement, Mai could help but giggle again. Well, the loss of study time was worth it if it had Luella so happy.

Taking up her seat – and when had it become hers? – she waited for everyone to be seated before serving herself some of the food that had been placed on the table without waiting to be told to.

She could feel Zheng’s eyes on her, but she didn’t acknowledge them, falling into easy conversation.

 

Dinner was mostly uneventful (if you counted the numerous quips Naru had made at her expense uneventful that is) and before long, they were all retreating to the main lounge to chat.

“Mai honey, I hate to ask this of you, but I’ve had a craving for your specific blend of raspberry tea these past couple of days,” Luella started, smiling sheepishly when Mai rolled her eyes good naturedly.

“It’s fine. If you didn’t ask, I’m sure the jerk over there would have eventually,” she joked, smiling. “Any other requests.”

“Earl grey.”

Barely sparing him a glance, Mai sighed. “Anyone who’s tea request isn’t so predictable?”

There was a round of laughter and a cold glare from Naru, but no-one else made a request.

“I’ll be back shortly.

She’d scarcely exited the room before Naru turned his attention towards Zheng. “Zheng-lao shi.” When he was certain he had the other man’s attention, he continued, “Mai mentioned a little bit ago that the one who taught her how to make charms was you?”

Zheng narrowed his eyes, somewhat suspicious even as he nodded. “Indeed. What of it?”

Pulling the charm Mai had given him, he ignored amused looks he was getting from the rest of the group, focusing instead on showing it to Zheng. “What can you tell me about this charm?”

Instead of reaching out to grab it and take a closer look like Naru expected, his eyes narrowed further. “How did you come upon this?”

“Mai gave it to him before he left for a case a while ago,” Yasu cut in, noticing how tense the room seemed to be getting. “Is something the matter?”

Zheng’s eyes closed for a second, almost as if he was praying for strength, before he reopened them. “No, it’s her decision what she does with the charms she makes. What is it you want to know?”

Debating over how much information he chose to offer, Naru considered how to word his question. Clearly there was something going on that he wasn’t aware of and that rubbed him the wrong way.

“The other night, Mai recharged it. She passed out despite being wired just before that. It seemed a little odd and I was wondering what caused that. Is it normal for it to be so strenuous to recharge a charm?”

Zheng’s eyes rolled heavenwards, and he groaned. “She didn’t tell you a thing about what you’re holding in your hand, did she?”

“It’s just a charm, why would she offer more information than that?”

Scoffing, Zheng shook his head. “That, my boy, is anything but ‘just a charm’. What you’re holding in your hands in the culmination of Mai’s abilities at the time, twice over. She passed out on two separate occasions when she was creating it. It holds more power than she used to have in her entire body. That she managed to fill it in one go this time just tells me that her spiritual energy had grown exponentially.”

Staring down at the charm in shock, Naru was about to reply – though what he would say he wasn’t sure – but then Zheng continued it.

“Moreover, you should be aware that Mai is incapable of making tradition charms. Her charms are special.”

Now curious, Martin pulled out the notebook he kept on hand, pen poised. “What makes them so special?”

“Despite several attempts, Mai proved unable to make charms correctly. They never worked – not even well enough to stop a low-level spirit. But we found that if we treated charm making as a sort of, aura bonding exercise, of sorts, she was much more successful. In your hands is her first ever successful attempt. And it’s not an aura bond. At least, not just an aura bond. That right there, is what happens when your spirit bonds to a physical item while still alive. Mai offered you a small piece of her soul.”

The world could have been falling apart in that moment and Naru wouldn’t have noticed over the rushing of blood in his ears as he struggled to comprehend what he’d just learnt.

In the background he thought he could hear Lin asking how that could happen, but it just washed over him as Naru tried to understand how he hadn’t noticed something so important.

 ‘Maybe she didn’t realise the significance,’ he considered, thinking on how blasé Mai had been about the entire situation.

Except that didn’t make any sense. Nothing Zheng had said indicated that he’d kept his student in the dark about what she’d managed to do. Which meant she’d done it knowingly.

But why give it to him?

He considered their attachment but struggled to understand why she’d chosen him (if anyone) to offer it to. Why not one of the team from Japan?

Struggling to puzzle this out, he didn’t notice when Mai re-entered the room until a hand was being waved in front of his face.

“Hey Naru, if you don’t take this from my hand, I will pour it on you. And it’ll be a complete accident,” she warned, hand trembling as she struggled to keep the teacup steady.

On automatic, he reached out to take it from her, fingers freezing at the feeling of her hand on his skin.

Quickly, he pulled back, barely managing not to spill tea over himself.

Mai was looking at him so softly and confused and Naru could feel that odd feeling in his chest.

“Seriously, Naru. Are you okay?”

“It’s nothing,” he managed after a moment, aware that he wasn’t being convincing at all.

“But-”

“Leave Big Boss alone, Mai-chan. He’s processing some stuff,” Yasu explained, winking.

Mai’s eyebrow furrowed and her lips pursed. “What the heck did you guys talk about while I made the tea?”

“Nothing important,” Zheng waved away, “just a few new things.”

“Right…” Mai trailed off, unsure of how much she believed that.

Madoka clapped her hands together. “As we were saying, what’s it like in Mount Koya? Mai rarely talks about her time there.”

Despite her concern, Mai let herself be dragged into the conversation, leaving Naru to deliberate over the course of the night.

And if she went to sleep that night concerned over whatever was wrong with Naru, she needn’t have bothered. By the time the next day came and they sat down study, Naru was back to his (narcissistic) self.

Except for when she caught him staring at her with a puzzled expression… Or when he opened his mouth to ask her a question but never said a word… Or when his hand would reach into his pocket pull something out. But other than that, nothing was different about him at all.

Nothing at all.