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Funny How Things Change

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Yasu had taken the time to explain to Hideaki what several of the more specialised tools they used were, like the EMF meter. Given that Yasu mostly researched people and locations for SPR; Mai wasn’t sure if Yasu actually knew that much about the technology SPR used, or if he was just convincing on a topic he knew nothing about.

Mai certainly didn’t understand much beyond the need for a camera and temperature check in each room. It wasn’t that she had no interest in understanding the higher level tech. The issue was whenever she asked a question about it, the complex explanations Naru or Lin gave made her head spin.

Either way, she was glad that Yasu had taken over the task of explaining why they were doing various checks and putting the cameras in specific places. The downside, though, was that Mai was the one to do most of the work since Yasu was busy with Hideaki.

“We take the temperature of each room so we know if it changes suddenly. We also make sure the cameras are getting both audio and video so we can keep watch on the computers back in base.” Yasu said as he gestured to Mai struggling with the camera stand.

“So, the cameras watch the rooms even when it’s dark?” Hideaki’s sceptical response was somewhat expected. Afterall, he only had access to his mother’s phone camera. It wasn't designed for recording images in the dark.

“Yep!” Yasu announced. “As well as tracking the temperature in the room, these cameras are able to switch mode and record in the dark by noticing different temperatures on objects. We can see different coloured objects based on the temperature it gives.”

“Wow!” Hideaki’s eyes were locked on Yasu’s face. From the corner of her eye, Mai noticed he was star-struck.

 Yasu had moved on to explain why temperature recording was important. “That way if a spirit appears, we know which room to focus on so we can track the spirit.”

Mai couldn’t help but snort at this. It would be more educational if he actually helped take the temperatures.

Caught between frustration at Yasu’s lack of help and frustration at the thermostat she was using for not giving a clear read on temperature, Mai didn’t notice the sudden silence from the other two.

“Mai-chan.” Yasu said her name quietly, but enough to get her attention.

Turning to Yasu, she saw why it was needed. Hideaki was staring at the corner of the room, fear and determination warring on his little face.

“The camera needs to point there.” Hideaki pointed his finger to the corner of the room.

Focusing, Mai thought she could see a wavering shadow darker than the natural shadow of the wall. A shiver ran down Mai’s back, and she unconsciously rubbed her arms. Throwing a look at Yasu, Mai nodded at him to direct the camera to the corner.

“Hideaki-kun.” Mat squatted down to be closer to the boy’s height. “Hideaki-kun, who’s in the corner?” she made sure to keep her voice quiet. She didn't want to startle the boy or the spirit that was causing him such fear.

“The Bad Man.”

Mai shared a look with Yasu before turning back to the boy. “Why is he a bad man?”

Hideaki shook his head. “He’s The Bad Man. He likes to hurt my friends here. They’re all scared of him.” Hideaki turned to Mai. “You can make him leave? Can you make him leave my friends alone?”

“We’ll do everything we can to make him leave Hideaki-kun. I promise.” Mai hoped it wouldn’t be a difficult promise to keep.

 

When they returned to base, Lin wanted to know why one of the camera’s wasn’t where he directed. Their explanation led to Naru demanding more details.

“Once again. Tell me what happened.”

Mai groaned, she’d already told Naru twice. What was going to change with a third telling?

Yasu jumped in with his observation of what happened. Naru nodded when it matched Mai’s.

“Now we know Mai did not forget to tell us something.”

Mai’s eyes widened and her jaw went slack at the comment, before her face started heating. Why that arrogant, narcissistic, jackass. I’m going to- 

“Did you notice anything while you were with Arakaki-san?” Yasu asked Bou-san, John, and Ayako before Mai could get out an angry retort.

Bou-san shrugged. “No. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

Mai slumped in her seat. It wouldn’t be worth it if she did go after Naru. Who knows what he’ll do to my office job list. A horrible thought occurred to her. Did he get the bathrooms cleaned?!

Naru looked contemplative. “Mai, did you notice anything about the spirit once you were aware of its presence?”

Mai pulled her thoughts away from the office and remembered the room. “Honestly, not really. Before I was aware of it, the temperatures kept fluctuating, but I was using an older thermostat and didn’t really pay much mind to it. Afterwards, a chill, maybe? I was more focused on Hideaki-kun.”

Mai recalled what she noticed while speaking with Hideaki. “I think there was a shadow in the corner, but nothing really drew my attention. It felt like I wasn’t meant to notice it. I wouldn't have noticed if Hideaki-kun didn’t point it out.”

Naru nodded, and turned to the spiritualists. “John, Takigawa-san, I would like you to go through the house with Mastuzaki-san and focus on a spiritual walk through.”

John nodded with a determined look. Bou-san nodded a beat behind him. No one liked cases involving kids.

“Before you go though, Mai,” Naru turned to look at the woman. “what happened in your dream?”

Mai frowned slightly, pulling forward the memory of the dream and the emotions that came with it.

“I was a child. I was cold and scared and sore all over. The room I was in was dark and I desperately wanted to leave but couldn't. There was another person.” Please don’t hurt me. “I knew who the person was.” Please. “And they terrified me. They were the reason I hurt.” I want to leave! “The door was locked.” I want to go home! “But I could hear his heavy footsteps coming towards the room. Whenever he unlocked the door, I knew more pain would come.” Okaa-san! “ I desperately wanted my okaa-san.”

The group watched as Mai’s eyes lost focus, drifting towards the back wall.

“The only thing that scared me more than the man...” NO! PLEASE! “... Was the garden.”

Silence echoed in the room when Mai finished speaking.

Distantly, Mai heard Naru address the others: “Take that walk through now, and go through the garden as well.”

Mai wasn't sure how long she remained lost in the memory of her dream. When she regained focus of the room around her, she saw Yasu and Lin both typing away at computers. Turning her head had her eyes connecting with Naru’s.

For the second time in as many days, their gazes locked. So many questions flowed between them. How have you handled your powers? Did you miss me? Perhaps most importantly to them both: Have you made your choice? Pity neither knew how to ask or respond in words. Eventually, Naru tipped his head towards her in silent query. Are you ok? Mai gave a slight smile in return. I will be.

“I’m going to find Hideaki-kun. Hopefully he can tell me more about his friends and The Bad Man.”

As she stood to leave the room, Naru stood also. “I will join you.”

At Mai’s confused look, he smirked. “This way you will not forget any of the details.”

Mai rolled her eyes and left the room.

 

They found Hideaki with a tablet in the front living space. Sayuri was nearby, preparing lunch in the kitchen.

“Mai-nee-san!” Hideaki’s grin spread across his face when he saw who entered the room.

“Hello, Hideaki-kun. What are you up too?” Mai sat near the boy and peeked at the screen.

“I’m looking up ghost hunters. I wanted to know more about what kind of stuff you guys do.”

Mai felt Naru sit next to her. “What in particular do you want to know?”, asked Naru. Mai looked at Naru in shock. Did he just offer to explain ghost hunting to a kid?

While Mai was in shock over the uncharacteristic behaviour of her boss, Hideaki started to bounce in his seat. Questions poured out of the boy in the way only children can achieve. Rather than shut down the child, Naru answered as many questions as he could. Mai was amazed that he even used child friendly language. He wasn’t dumbing down his responses, but he wasn't using four to five syllable words to explain anything either.

Eventually, Naru managed to steer the conversation to why the team was present at the house. “Hideaki-san, I know your parents have told us about what is happening in the house, but can you tell us about your friends and The Bad Man?”

For a man who disdained most people as unable to stand up to his level of intelligence, Mai was amazed at how he had managed to get the child in front of them to feel comfortable enough to open up. Vaguely, she remembered he had behaved well with the children at the church orphanage at Christmas time. Even if I did spend most of that case possessed. Mai felt her face reddening at the memory of her behaviour towards Lin on that case. She shook away the memories and refocused on the conversation in front of her.

“When we moved in, I met my friends. They get scared easily. They kept telling me I need to leave. Whenever they saw okaa-san or otou-san though, they would get quiet.” The boy looked upset for a moment. Then a large grin formed. “They like to watch when we play family games.”

Mai watched as Naru’s face softened. She smiled when he caught her eye and saw her watching him. Her smile grew larger when he snapped his attention back to Hideaki. His face was removed of any warmth.

“Kaa-san and tou-san don’t see them, so I keep taking photos of my friends to show them.” Hideaki looked frustrated at the lack of photo evidence of his friends. He looked at Naru. “Could your cameras take a photo of them?”

Naru looked at Mai again and responded, “Some of our cameras might be able to. But it won't be a photo like the ones you take. It will just let us know that they’re there.”

“You mean like the temperature cameras?” Given Yasu’s explanation earlier, Mai wasn't surprised by the boy’s question.

“Yes.” Naru said.

“Hideaki-kun.” Mai jumped into the conversation before the boy would bombard Naru with questions about the hows of cameras they used; Yasu wasn’t able to go into that. “You said The Bad Man hurt your friends. Can you tell us how he did that?”

Hideaki went quiet. He didn't speak for several minutes, before whispering. “I don’t want to talk about him. My friends told me not too. If I talk about him, he’ll come and hurt me.”

“Has he hurt you before?” Naru’s voice was lower than normal.

Mai could have throttled her boss. What a horrible question!

The boy shook his head. “He’s tried, but one of my friends always distracts him. Or gets kaa-san’s or tou-san’s attention and they come in. The Bad Man doesn't like being around adults.”

Mai could hear Sayuri stop moving in the kitchen. Turning her head slightly, Mai saw Sayuri looking at Hideaki in horror. Mai realised that this was likely the most Sayuri had heard about The Bad Man. Turning back to the boy, Mai assured him and his mother. “Hideaki-kun. I promise. We won’t let him hurt you.”