Houshou Takigawa leaned back on the sofa and sighed. "So. What now?" he asked, looking at the ceiling. It was a week after Naru returned to Japan and a few days after the Agawa case, and everyone was gathered at SPR's reception as usual. Needless to say, 'everyone' excluded dull, workaholic men.
"What now, you say... Can't we just act like normal?" Ayako Matsuzaki replied as she received the cup of tea Mai was offering.
"Idiot. You can't act normal when your boss is one of the most celebrated paranormal scientists in the world today. Of course you'd want to show that you deserve to work under him." He shrugged in an act of nonchalance. "I would, definitely."
"You would because you're a fanboy, Bou-san~" Mai Taniyama giggled as the monk flushed.
"Y-You just don't understand. Right, John?"
"'Tis a bit intimidating, yes." John Brown smiled kindly. "But I think Shibuya-san would prefer it if we treated him as Shibuya Kazuya-san instead of Oliver Davis-san."
"It is as he says," Masako Hara seconded, still in that haughty, cutesy voice that pissed Mai off.
And as always, it did piss Mai off. "Says the one who used his identity to coerce his obedience."
"It is called 'strategy'."
The ringing of the door chimes stopped her full assault, and the entrance of Kazuya Shibuya stopped her heartbeat for a millisecond. But the sight of a disgruntled Naru stopped everyone from moving an inch, except for Koujo Lin who came in after the boss heading straight for the safety of his office.
"Good morning, Boss." Osamu Yasuhara greeted. The others turned to their boss in alarm.
"Morning," Naru grumbled as he beelined to his office.
When the door closed, the irregulars and Mai shifted their shocked faces to Yasuhara's grinning one. Then, they all looked at each other for a long time. And grinned like the glasses-wearing part-time receptionist.
Noll had patiently waited for his older brother to wake up. He had so many questions and so much more criticism for Gene, but after their last contact during the Agawa case, they have not been able to get in touch. He distracted himself in the meantime by reviewing past cases and reading about different kinds of haunting with their equivalent methods of exorcism to prepare for their potential client. He would not have realized that afternoon had turned to night had turned to dawn had Lin not given him the usual seven o'clock wake-up call. And so he put on sweat clothes, did his now-everyday routine of Qigong, and prepared for the day, all the while keeping himself in the reflection of a mirror.
When even the mirror on the underside of the van's sun visor showed no signs of a stupidly smiling identical but younger face, he was officially exasperated. But being the professional, mature genius that he was, he was able to keep his temper in check as he approached the SPR door and heard Mai noisily chattering with the rest of his team. He opened the door and briskly walked to his office.
"Good morning, Boss." Yasuhara-san greeted suddenly.
"Morning," he managed to reply before closing his door behind him. A nagging feeling came with the shutting sound of the door.
What was it?
He caught his reflection in the gleaming glass of his bookshelf and scowled. It must be because Gene cannot cross over and is causing him trouble like always.
At exactly ten o'clock, the potential client arrived. "Good afternoon. My name is Mizuki Eika. I arranged an appointment the other day…" a visibly distressed woman bowed.
"Yes, please come in and sit down." Mai smiled pleasantly as she motioned to an empty seat at the settee, slightly dispelling the obvious worry and fear on the client's face.
When tea had been served and the client had been introduced to everyone, Naru began his interview. "Please recount your circumstances in as much detail as you can."
"…Of course…" Mizuki-san hesitated but continued, "My husband and I decided to move to his parents' house so we could look after them. At the first two weeks of our stay, everything was normal. But three weeks ago my parents-in-law began entertaining this invisible guest they call Mi-chan. They would talk to it during mealtime, make tea for it—they treated it like they would a normal human."
"What do you think?" Bou-san addressed Naru, who was scribbling notes on his black notebook.
Without seeming to have acknowledged the question, the boss replied, "The client is not done yet." He turned to Mizuki-san. "Please continue."
Naru was so concentrated on writing his thoughts and follow-up questions that he did not see how Ayako almost choked on her tea, how Mai slowly walked backwards into the kitchenette to giggle unrestrainedly but silently, how Lin alternately stared at him and at the three younger men who were nervously smiling, grinning, and shaking with glee, respectively, and how Masako had covered more than half of her face with her kimono sleeve.
"Eh?" The tension in the client's body was replaced by confusion and surprise. Unsure whether the long-haired man was training the younger one in English or otherwise, she continued, "Uh, yes. Of course, my husband and I don't see it and are worried that this guest has come to take our parents away. They were at that age when they were supposed to enter their 'second childhood', after all. If their guest is waiting for a chance to spirit them away once they lower their guard—" Mizuki-san inhaled sharply. "We're not prepared for that, my husband and I.
"Please," she pleaded with a bow, "help us find out what is happening to our parents. They're the only ones I have left." The sad worry in her voice was so evident that all the mirth in the room was forgotten and replaced with sympathy.
After a short, silent while, Mai placed an encouraging hand on the client's shoulder. "Don't worry, Mizuki-san, we'll do our best to help you." She looked at her boss, daring him to shut her up. He did not. "I promise."
At the finality of Mai's promise, Naru sighed. "It is possible that this may not be due to the occurrence of paranormal phenomena. Are you still inclined to request an investigation?"
Mizuki-san nodded. "Today, if possible."
He stood up. "Then, please coordinate the arrangements with our investigator, Lin. We shall leave at one o'clock."
A few hours later found Mai stretching her arms in front of a rather large but cozy-looking house. "So? Why are you guys all here, too?" she asked the group who alighted from Bou-san's car.
"Don't be so cold, Taniyama-san. Surely we're here to help with the case," Yasuhara answered innocently despite the glint in his spectacles. "It's such a shame that Brown-san and Hara-san have prior commitments, though."
Bou-san just whistled an annoying tune, avoiding her gaze.
Ayako rolled her eyes at the other two's antics. "You know why we're here, Mai. We want to see how long it would take before Naru notices—"
"—Notices what, Matsuzaki-san?" Naru asked from behind her. He was already carrying the few monitors that would be used in the preliminary investigation. He gave them his "You're all useless." smile as they turned to him.
"—how much we missed you," came Yasuhara's save.
"You do not seem to miss the physical labor, though, given that you are all just standing like you are in charge." He left the statement hanging in the air as he walked towards the house.
The other four looked at each other guiltily, carrying the remaining cables and shelves in the van. "Sorry, Boss."
"Can anyone hear me?"
"Yup, loud and clear," Mai answered absently. They had finished setting up base in one of the second floor guest rooms as well as the other equipment throughout the house, so she started recording temperature readings in the other rooms. "What's up?"
When no one answered, she looked up to find that she was alone. Well, maybe not, because the sensation of being watched slowly intensified. Shrugging the creepy feeling off, she looked at the temperature: seventeen degrees Celsius. "Huh? But it was twenty-one degrees during the first and second reading…"
She started shivering at the realization of the temperature drop.
Her walkie-talkie buzzed with Naru's voice. "Mai. The room you are in is colder by four degrees. Get out of there for now." She did not waste time leaving.
But the eerie feeling and the shivering did not leave her as she proceeded to another room. And another. And another. "Seventeen degrees, seventeen degrees, seventeen degrees. This is weird. All the rooms before that certain room read twenty-one degrees. What do you think this means?" she asked through the walkie-talkie.
"It means you are being followed," was the simple response.
"Th-Then what do I do?" Her voice had lowered to a whisper, as if she feared being overheard. With her voice hushed, the silence of her part of the house finally registered and with it the sound of barely audible footsteps on the carpeted hallway coming through the open door behind her. She held her breath as she waited for the silence to be broken by either Naru's voice or the person who had already stopped walking. The silence was deafening.
"KYAAAAAAAA!" Mai fell to her knees.
Noll did not even need the walkie-talkie to hear Mai's scream and was already halfway out the door when Bou-san's voice crackled through the device.
"Mai! What's wrong?! Mai!"
After a short while, Yasuhara-san's voice responded. "I'm—" A laugh. "I'm afraid I scared Taniyama-san terribly. She's on the floor crying and can't reply at the moment." In the background, Noll could hear Mai's sobbing voice telling the part-time receptionist how much of an idiot he was in between hiccups. "There, there, Taniyama-san. I already apologized, didn't I?" He heard a bit more of crying and apologetic laughing before the line was cut.
Just beyond the walkie-talkie, he saw Lin quietly stifling his chuckle with his fist while watching the monitors. He sighed in exasperation. There were seven billion people in the world plus one in the astral plane, and all he got in his team were the idiots. He grabbed the device.
"Taniyama-san, if you would please do the most basic tasks of an investigator without screaming every so often."
Right after hearing his commanding request, the walkie-talkie crackled with the girl's angry reply. "Well, I am deeply sorry for my short display of unprofessionalism. I will try my best to not let it happen again." Was she trying to be sarcastic? He smirked.
"As you should."
"I thought we had already established that."
Lin glanced at his charge, who was now studying his reflection with as much of a frustrated look as his face could muster. "No word from Gene yet?" he hazarded.
Noll just sighed and approached the surveillance monitors. "What of the temperature drops following Mai?"
"The entity causing it seems to have disappeared the moment Yasuhara-san entered the room."
"Very well. Study the clips of the cameras within the first few rooms wherein Mai felt something. There might be some indication of its presence other than the temperature drop."
At this, Noll nodded and held up the walkie-talkie again. "Everyone, please finish up with the readings. Mai, start interviewing Mizuki-san's parents-in-law afterwards."
Indeed, Noll did not notice the shifts. Lin smiled thinly. Maybe he could transcribe the dialogues from now on for future entert—reference. Today was more of a field day than field work, it seemed.
Disclaimer: I don't own Ghost Hunt or any of its characters.