A/N: The snow and winter around here brought out this inspiration and I couldn't seem to resist. I hope you forgive a clichéd premise as I attempt to make the story my own. It's a monster of a one-shot so far, so it will be in two parts, rated T for some mildly adult themes. Set almost a year after Naru and Lin leave for England.
I don't own Ghost Hunt or Updike's poem. All mistakes are my own. Please leave me a review!
The days are short,
The sun a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.
Mai watched absently as Naru reviewed them on the case yet again, the others in the room seemingly as disinterested as her. It was very warm in the lodge and the crackling fire was lulling her to sleep. Not to mention that Naru was explaining what they already knew—they'd been tracking this stupid spirit all day and it was day three.
Of nothing but trekking around in the cold.
She was tired, and wondered if anyone would notice if she just put her head on her hands right there and closed her eyes for a minute…
Ayako moaned, interrupting their boss, "We know, we know! Spirit in the mountains, set on attacking tourists, we need to exorcise it, blah, blah, blah…we've been here for days now and I'm exhausted! Can't this wait until tomorrow?"
Naru gave the miko a chilly glare and Mai straightened at the desk so he wouldn't direct his displeasure in her direction next. "As I have mentioned," the young man said sharply, tone severe, "There is a blizzard expected to hit soon, and I would rather have this finished before I get trapped with the lot of you."
Ayako and Bou-san made to respond, faces angry, but John interrupted them, smiling nervously, "So what would like us to do?" Masako looked at Naru serenely, indicating he continue.
Naru was still annoyed but said, "We're splitting up and covering the most prominent scene of attack, on the south side of the ridge. I want Hara-san and you by the lifts, Brown-san. Takigawa-san and Matsuzaki-san by the equipment shed, and Lin and I will cover the resident side." He looked at Mai and she was again glad that she'd refrained from dozing off, "Mai, you can come with us, and bring the equipment and cables."
Mai sighed but nodded, unhappy to be the pack-mule again. Everyone started gathering their things and Mai followed Lin and Naru out the warm lodge into an afternoon far colder than it was earlier that day.
She pulled her cap farther down her ears, wrapping her scarf around her mouth. It was already beginning to snow and the dimming sun was not helping her stay warm in the slightest. She re-adjusted the straps to the giant camera case and sped up to catch up with her boss and his assistant.
"Why do you think the spirit's been avoiding us so much?" she asked, shuffling by Naru as Lin was already yards ahead of them.
"I'm not sure," Naru said, and she could barely make out what he was saying, his dark layers of scarf and coat covering most of his face, his blue eyes quick as always as they scoped out the landscape around them. She didn't think anyone else could look so handsome with so little of himself showing and realized the double meaning to her thoughts.
Mai flushed, hating herself for being so predictable and Naru continued, "Hopefully, splitting up will allow it to feel like it has the advantage and help lure it out, so we can get this over with."
Mai looked at him, "I guess you really hate the snow, huh? Or…us."
Naru didn't react, though he said, "I don't care for the cold."
Mai grinned, "That's almost ironic, Naru." He shot her a look, but it didn't have its usual venom. She paused thoughtfully, "I guess you didn't care much about the weather in England then, either?"
Naru visibly stiffened and Mai realized that she wasn't supposed to bring that up. They hadn't talked about England, or his identity or…anything…since he and Lin had returned to Japan two months ago. She forced her face forward, glad for the gathering snow that was helping hide her flush. She started walking again and Naru followed behind her without another word.
And so they went on in silence for a long time.
She wasn't sure how long exactly, but her feet were close to cramping, tired from having to wade through the shin-high snow. She noted that the sun was further down and that she had stopped being able to see anything in front of her, the snow too harsh and the wind stinging her eyes.
Mai turned suddenly and immediately collided with Naru, who she hadn't realized was very close behind. She fell over, back in the snow, sputtering apologetically, "S-sorry! I didn't mean to do—"
She couldn't be sure, but she thought Naru looked exasperated, "Why did you stop?"
"Oh," she said, getting up with his help, bag somehow heavier across her chest, "I stopped being able to see Lin."
Naru started and looked beyond her, seeming to realize that his assistant was nowhere in sight. He looked around before starting off again.
"Wait!" Mai called out, but Naru didn't stop. She cursed under her breath and ran after him as fast as the heavy weight of the bag would let her. He was disappearing quickly in the snow. She reached out and grabbed his shoulder, causing him to spin around and stop.
"What, Mai?" he grit out.
She scowled, "You're going in the wrong direction."
Naru looked at her and then around them and Mai realized just how white everything was. She couldn't make out a single object or structure anywhere.
Mai looked up, surprised that cool and collected Naru had just cursed. He ignored the look. "What direction do you remember Lin going?" he yelled over the wind.
The brunette bit her lip, feeling how chapped it was, "I…I don't know anymore!"
Naru let out a harsh sigh and Mai felt herself blush, "It's not my fault! It's completely white out here!"
Indeed, the wind had seemed to pick up and Mai was having a difficult time looking at Naru in front of her without her eyes stinging. She wrapped her arms around herself as another powerful gust of wind and snow blew past them. "Is…is this a blizzard?" she asked, cold inside and out.
Naru looked down at her, "Obviously."
She narrowed her eyes and was about to yell at him when he reached his hands to her shoulder. Mai froze, trying to understand what he was doing, her eyes wide as he stepped closer to her. Why was he touching…?
Naru lifted up the strap of the camera bag and brought it away from her, placing it across his own chest. Mai watched in amazement and blushed violently: he had never done anything like that for her before, seeming to actually revel in making her his work-horse on cases. This was….this was…
"Would you stop staring like an idiot?" his voice cut in, "We need to find some shelter."
Mai scowled before asking, "What about Lin?"
Naru turned and started walking, "Lin is intelligent enough. I'm sure he's figured out to find cover already. And maybe we'll find him on the way."
Mai hustled to keep up with him, the snow making it very difficult to move through, the wind working against her and everything reducing her vision. She felt something grab her wrist and found Naru's gloved hand gripping and pulling her with him. She tried to make her heart stop beating so fast by reminding herself that this was necessary in a damn blizzard.
"Wh—what are we looking for?" she called over the howl of the storm.
Naru didn't respond and Mai glowered again. Typical, narcissistic, unresponsive jerk. She tired to make anything out in the ice but it was no use. Her heart started to beat faster: what if they were stranded and alone? What if they froze to death out here?
She tried to shake off the morbid thoughts, concentrating on taking big steps in the growing powder and feeling her limbs cry out in pain. Her legs were extremely tired and she was getting unbearably cold, her coat becoming next to useless the wetter it was getting.
"Naru," she said, but he didn't seem to hear her over the wind. She tried again, "Naru!"
He turned, hand squeezing her wrist. "Can we stop for a minute?" she asked, breath shaky, "I'm really tired and I can't…"
His blue eyes bore into hers and she saw him move closer, putting an arm around her shoulders as he steered her forward, "Keep moving, Mai. It's getting worse by the minute and if we don't find shelter soon..."
Mai nodded and felt her legs keep lifting, leaning into him for support. If it were any other time she would be reveling in the sensation of being so close to the man she unrequitedly loved, but the cold was too numbing to think much.
"Come on," he said, "I expect more from an idiot like you."
She grit her teeth, cheeks coloring, "What does that mean? I can't be cold?"
She couldn't see his face, but swore that he was smiling, "Just that you're too dumb to give up in a blizzard. I'm sure you'll find a much stupider way to die."
"Why you…" she yelled, glaring at him furiously before she realized what he was doing. He was…trying to distract her. He was trying to get her to keep going. The realization made her chest warm and she grinned up at him.
"You know, I'd be just as motivated if you were being nice to me!"
Naru turned to look ahead of them again, though his voice was warm, "But it wouldn't be nearly as entertaining for me."
The wind picked up and Mai saved her breath instead of retorting. She supposed that this was much nicer than she could have reasonably expected from the guy and she had to admit that he'd been much less…severe…with her since returning from England. He wasn't nearly as bossy, and he even took her home most days if she stayed late at the office—or got Lin to do it.
If nothing else, Mai had felt comfortable with him in a way that she didn't think she'd be again after her confession, after he dismissed her feelings and attributed them to being about his deceased twin. Really, Mai thought, it could be a lot worse. He could be more cold and distant—could resent her or avoid her. She should really consider herself lucky.
That's almost sad, how little I expect from Naru.
Mai was shaken out of her somber thoughts when the man in question stopped walking, abruptly halting her own lagging steps. "What is it?" she asked, trying to find anything around them in the violent snow.
"I think I see a building," Naru said, his breathing labored and Mai realized that he must be exhausted as well and felt bad for taking away from his strength. He pointed ahead of them and Mai squinted, able to see the faint outline of darker gray a few feet ahead of them.
"Okay, let's go," she said, revamping her energy and pulling Naru behind her this time.
A few minutes (and blind groping at the structure in front of them) later they finally found a door and Naru pushed and kicked at it to open. The thing was locked and frozen shut and Mai wrapped her arms around herself further, willing it to let them in. She looked at Naru and saw his jaw clench, seemingly fixed at a point in front of him. Instantly, she knew what he was about to do.
"No! Naru, don't!" she yelled, but it was too late and Naru had used a burst of psychic energy to force the door open. They immediately stumbled inside, Mai reaching for the young man before he kneeled on the floor. She kicked the door closed and looked around, seeing that they were in a small cabin, sparsely furnished and uninhabited.
She spotted a bed and moved to help Naru to it. He managed to stumble fairly well and sat down on the edge of it. "Here," Mai said, taking a blanket from the bed and draping it over his shoulders.
Naru didn't react other than close his eyes. After a moment he spoke, "We need to get warm. We should build a fire…"
She nodded and looked around again, seeing that there was a small fireplace and a decent about of wood. She knelt down and tried to find anything to light and eventually spotted some matches on the mantle.
A while later there was a roaring fire in front of them and Naru seemed to be well enough to sit up strait. He removed his coat and started taking off his boots. He motioned to her, "You should get out of your wet clothes and dry them so you don't get sick."
Mai did as he suggested, noting that her pants were completely soaked, as were socks. She searched through the cabin and found a small supply closet with a few linens and covers and grabbed them. Naru was already disrobing and she handed him another blanket, turning away quickly before he could see the abnormal color in her face.
She took a silent breath and made her way over to the tiny bathroom. Once she was wrapped up securely in her own blanket, she laid her clothes down to dry. She sat down in front of the fire and looked over at Naru, who looked very different wrapped in a blue checked blanket and not his usual tailored black.
"How are you feeling?" she asked, seeing that he hadn't moved much.
He gave her a nod, "As expected. We're fortunate to have stumbled here when we did."
Mai looked out the windows and saw that he was right: the storm was not lessening and it piled up outside. "Yeah," she sighed, tucking her legs underneath her, "Do you think the others are alright?"
Naru looked at her, "Since I'm not clairvoyant, I don't know. Maybe you should sleep on it."
Mai felt her face heat up in anger, unsure why he was being so snappy, "Sorry. I'm just worried about them."
Naru sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, "I know. I'm certain they're fine—they are all very resourceful." He paused, "There's no reception on my phone, so there's no way to get word to them."
She looked down at her knees and tried to feel better about the situation. After all, there wasn't really anything she could do to help at the moment and she did think that all of her friends were very adept at taking care of themselves.
Mai picked at the fringe of her blanket, wondering what she was supposed to do now, here with Naru. She had no illusions that there were any romantic possibilities. Ever since her confession, Naru had substantially tempered her expectations and shown her exactly what his feelings on the subject were. Still, she really didn't want to make an idiot of herself right now and wondered how she was supposed to deal with being here with him for several hours at least. She looked around for something to entertain herself with, spotting the camera bag nearby and crawling towards it.
She pulled out the equipment and began setting it up, pointing the camera towards most of the room and working the tripod. Naru's voice interrupted her, "What are you doing?"
Mai shrugged, working the buttons, "I thought maybe I could be useful. Maybe we could actually capture something on camera."
Naru was looking at her in a way that was completely foreign to her, a mixture of emotions on his face that astounded her because he was Naru, and he never displayed anything. He looked away and when he spoke again his voice was slightly gruff, "I don't think you'll get anything paranormal on that."
Mai tilted her head, confused at his meaning. "You're probably right."
Naru stood up abruptly and walked over to the small kitchenette at the corner of the room.
"What are you looking for?" she asked.
The young man continued to rummage through the shelves and cabinets before replying, "Survival goods. It would be good not to die of exposure and dehydration."
Mai scowled at his tone but couldn't fault his thinking. She joined him, looking through the bottom cabinets, hand gripping her covering. She didn't find too much, but it was pretty useful: more matches, cleaning products, a first aid kit, a can of sardines. She brought the loot up to Naru who had collected some stuff himself: a pot, a lighter, a flashlight and some packages of old saltines.
"Well, it's something," she said cheerfully and Naru gave what she would almost call a small smile.
"Especially this," he said, holding a bottle of something Mai couldn't read.
"What is that?"
"Saki," he said, inspecting the label carefully and Mai made a face. He looked at her, "It seems that fortune really is on our side."
A little while later they were both sitting by the fire, Mai warming snow in the pot and Naru taking small sips from his bottle. She'd tried a gulp but found the taste absolutely wretched. Besides, it certainly wasn't going to help with staying hydrated, as she'd pointed out to him with no reaction.
Naru was staring at the fire intently and Mai followed suit, her chin on her knees, trying to calm her feelings for the man next to her and thinking of everything—anything—else. Ghosts, work, her friends, making rent. It was useless, however, and she kept finding her eyes come back to him, drinking in his handsome features, his skin in the warm light, the way his hair fell into far too sharp eyes.
He shifted and Mai dragged her gaze away, reaching for and feeling one of her socks by the fire and finding it still fairly wet. She brought the pot away from the fire and checked the temperature; the water was just right to drink. She took several thirsty gulps before turning to Naru. He was watching her and she flushed, holding out the water, "You should drink some."
The young man took another sip of saki, but accepted the gesture, drinking the rest of the water down. Again, Naru was looking at her with an unreadable expression in his eyes, almost as if he was considering something. After a moment he spoke, "Do you still have your dreams?"
Mai was surprised at the question, both its abrupt nature and the intent behind it. "Yes, sometimes. Usually if we're working a case—nothing about this one, though, sorry."
Naru was looking away from her and she wondered why he bothered asking questions if he had no interest in listening to the answer. There was another long silence where she thought he wouldn't speak again, but of course, Naru was predictable in his unpredictability.
"Is he still there?"
Mai's eyes widened and she realized what he meant…Gene. "Sometimes. He says he does what he can to help, but he doesn't always know what's going on," she told him honestly.
Naru was still not looking at her and Mai's head was buzzing, wondering what he was thinking. She swallowed, "Are…are you worried about him? Staying around?" He didn't respond and Mai was suddenly hit with a wall of emotions, "That he'll turn bad?" Her voice broke at the word and Naru finally shifted his eyes to hers.
"No, Mai," he said, "I don't think Gene would do that."
Tears were coming unbidden at the thought, but Mai tried not to show it, "H—how do you know?"
"I just know," Naru said simply, "He cares about us too much to let that happen."
Mai looked at him, unable to hold back her tears further and tried to smile, "Yeah, you're right."
Naru nodded but his face was tense and Mai was uncertain at why that was. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand before gesturing towards the bottle on the ground. "I could use a sip," she said, laughing slightly and Naru acquiesced.
She tried to take a gulp but it was just as bad as before, and she found herself instead leaning back from the fire, trying to calm her nerves. She glanced out the window and saw nothing but darkness and wished, for the first time, that she was alone in her apartment right now so she could be sad or weird or anything without Naru looking at her or judging.
She pushed her hair away from her face, "Have you…not seen him yourself?"
"Oh," she said. Mai had no idea what that meant and she was fairly frightened of pushing the issue, but something—maybe Gene's voice somewhere in her head—told her to try. "What did he say?"
Naru gave her a cold stare, but Mai tried to remain unfazed. He could always not reply, after all. "You have a lot of interest in him, don't you? " he said, "But I for one don't much care to discuss this further."
Mai frowned, "Of course I do. Gene has helped me—us—tremendously! He—he—"
"I already know how you feel about my brother, Mai. Like I said, I don't care to discuss this further—"
The brunette released a sharp breath, realizing what this was truly about, "Stop telling me how I feel!"
The two of them glared at each other and Mai thought the fire in front of her was far too hot, her blanket far too confining. She pulled her arms out over the top of it and tightened it across her chest before continuing, "I do care about Gene…like I care about Monk, or Yasu, or John—like my family. Like you care about him. And I thought maybe you wanted to talk about our own feelings or let me know…"
Naru let out what sounded like a sarcastic snort, though Mai would doubt he would term it something so undignified. "What is it with your obsession with feelings? Not everyone just dances around in an emotional cloud all the time, raining down sensitivity and kittens!" Naru's jaw clenched, realizing how uncontrolled he sounded, "You are frustratingly obtuse."
Mai felt her face rising in temperature and could imagine just how red she was, "And you're emotionally stunted!"
Her insult seemed to echo in the small space and Mai watched as the young man's face lost its stoniness and became blank again. Mai was instantly abashed at her words, or at least the way she said them. She stood up with the pot and made to get more snow, just to avoid looking at him, but Naru's voice stopped her.
"He told me not to waste my life in my work," he said, standing up as well and she realized that he was answering her. She stopped what she was going and shook her head.
"Don't, Naru. That was an extremely personal question and I shouldn't have—"
Naru rolled his eyes, "Don't ask me something you don't want the answer to, Mai. It's rude." He picked up his shirt and started putting it on, continuing, "And to address your other remark, yes, I am prone to stoicism. Usually, however, this has not been a determent for me."
Mai watched as he finished dressing and leaned against the mantle, back to his collected self. "However, I am willing to revisit my more problematic traits, as Gene has advised, in order to perhaps "live a little", as he so wisely put it." The young woman smiled, imagining Gene saying exactly that…though Naru executing it was next to impossible to comprehend.
"Now," he said, "If we could concern ourselves with the issue of eating instead of this, I would be ecstatic."
Mai blushed and nodded, going about trying to do just that. "There's sardines and crackers and I always kept some candy in the camera bag, let me check…"
Her boss looked incredulous, "You keep sweets with my equipment?"
She nodded, ignoring his pointed tone, "Yeah, sugar helps me stay awake."
"Doubt it," he said darkly, "But that's not what I have an issue with."
"Ah!" she said, holding out two bags triumphantly, "I knew I'd stocked up! Looks like we'll have a feast, Naru!"
Her boss just glared.
Some time later, after they'd had some stale and odd nourishment, Mai was dressed back in her dry clothes, looking around the cabin.
"How for do you think we are from the lodge?"
Naru didn't look at her, fixed at his position by the window watching the blizzard continue. "Not sure exactly, though we are in the resident side of the south side. Without the storm it might be a 30 minute hike."
"Hmm," Mai murmured sitting down on the bed and drawing her knees up, "How long before they find us?"
Naru turned towards her, "Likely as soon as the show lets up—probably in the daylight. It's far too dangerous tonight."
The young woman nodded but didn't say thing else. She wondered what time it was, but didn't want to ask Naru. Really, she just wanted to avoid her love-sick feelings and being here with him had emboldened her far too much already. At any moment she felt like she was about to spill something personal or act on the emotions he'd dismissed almost a year ago.
Naru walked over to the bed and Mai tried not to react when he sat down, back against the headboard, across from her. She willed herself to appear unaffected by his proximity and continued to look at her sock-covered feet. If Gene were here he would tell her to get off her butt and not be afraid of his idiot of a brother—that she shouldn't be so scared to be herself. Mai smiled slightly imagining Gene's voice, so much like Naru's own, saying, "Mai, you're braver than this! He's only a boy."
"Mai." Her musings were interrupted by a much more real voice across from her and she tried not blush, unsure why even hearing her name from him made her have such a strong reaction.
Naru's face was stoic, but she thought she could see a tiny smirk at the corner of his mouth. "Do you want to hear a ghost story?" he asked.
The brunette couldn't stop the grin that came over her face, her eyes wide. "Y—yes!"
And so the telling began.
Naru told her several, one based on one of his earliest cases, about a little boy who was lost and haunted his walk from school, unable to get home because he'd fallen and broken his neck. Mai's heart reached out and she realized that these accounts were so much different that when she'd told ghost stories with her friends. Because these were real—they were not something she could will away—these were people and spirits just like she'd worked with before and that made them very heart-wrenchingly real to her.
"…but he was able to gain peace after that. He hadn't even realized he'd been dead for thirty years," Naru said, his normally cold tone soft. He seemed to notice that her demeanor had changed and waited for her to speak.
Mai bit her lip softly, her eyes stinging, "He must have been so lonely. Do you think…" She trailed off and looked down, "Do you think they find something after they move on? Is there something after that?"
Naru watched her intently, "Are you asking about the afterlife?"
The girl considered for a moment before nodding, "I guess. Do you believe in it?"
He didn't reply for a long time, though he looked at her all the while, "There are a lot of theories, and I would be remiss to dismiss anything without proof." He paused, "I suppose I do think there is something. Reprieve. If nothing else, it is the end of pain and sadness after a difficult struggle. That in itself is a reward."
Mai stared at him, her heart responding at those words, "That…that's an encouraging thought." She wrapped her arms around herself, "I've never had proof, but I bet my parents are happy, wherever they are."
An unidentifiable look flashed across Naru's face but he merely turned his head and nodded, "Oddly mature of you."
Mai smiled and took the comment for the nice gesture it was, thinking that maybe ghost stories didn't have to sting after all—not if they could help the spirits find their way from their torment. And while some things would always be painful, there was also always hope that one could find peace.
It made her wonder about Gene and why he was still sticking around. He'd never disclosed to Mai the reasons and she'd supposed he still had unfinished business somewhere. But…she also knew he needed to let go, as much as she appreciated his help. Even though Naru wouldn't say it, Mai knew that it must be difficult to know that his twin was still hanging around, restless. Looking at Naru now with that far-away look in his eyes, Mai knew that he was thinking of Gene as well.
Without speaking, Mai shifted over on the bed until she was also sitting against the headboard. She jostled him with her elbow until he looked at her and she tried to give him a small smile, "We'll put him to rest, Naru. You shouldn't be haunted like this. He wants you to be happy, I know it."
She'd meant the moment to be supportive and encouraging, but she instantly realized that her proximity and feelings gave it a lot more weight that she'd intended. Without her permission, her cheeks flushed and she knew what Naru must be seeing as well: her affection for him written plain as day on her face. Naru, for his part, had that inscrutable look in his eyes again, and a long silence stretching between them.
Mai tried to laugh—anything to lighten the mood—but the breath got caught in her throat for, in that that moment, something very piercing was in those blue eyes of his and her body was a traitor, betraying everything with a blush.
"I don't know how you do that," he said quietly.
She was confused, moving her gaze from his eyes to mouth, they way he was shaping the words.
"Show every thought," he continued.
Mai wanted to crawl under the covers or run into the blizzard, anything to avoid this infuriating, perceptive, jerk of a man and she began shuffling away, "Yeah, sorry. I need to go to the bathr—"
But suddenly Naru's hand was on her own on the blanket, the other around her shoulders as he brought her to his chest, hugging her stiffly and awkwardly. Mai let out a squeak of surprise, pressed against him as he said, "I appreciate the trait, Mai. It's rare that people care as you do."
Mai tried to still her heart, nodding against his chest and feeling absolutely stunned at his rare and sentimental side. If anyone had told her that Naru was capable of this she would have thought them possessed. But here he was, giving her a hug and complimenting what she'd always assumed was a stupid trait of hers.
Mai blinked back her tears and clung to him harder, suddenly glad for the blizzard and hoping that didn't make her a bad person. She finally felt like…she mattered to him.
And maybe that was enough.
Maybe she could be fine with not being loved like...that if she could feel significant to him.
Naru pulled back and Mai sighed silently. He stood from the bed and walked to the fireplace, bending to re-stoke the flame. When he turned to her again he was the same unexpressive Naru he always was, though his next words sent her mind reeling.
"I've tempered the flames so we can go to bed. We should get some rest."
Her stomach plummeted. No, no. This most certainly wasn't enough.
Part I of two or so. Please review and let me know what you think. Your support is everything to me!