A/N: Hi everyone! I hope you had a wonderful holiday! As promised, here is another installment of TIOC! Perks to still having a winter break: I have oodles of down time at work and actually have time and energy to write. I'm making every attempt to get as many chapters out before classes start up again.
I had so much fun with this chapter. It's probably one of my favorites. It was a blast to write. I love writing with Naru's perspective in mind; he's truly an enthralling character. I hope you enjoy reading this chapter as much I enjoyed writing it, and I hope this satisfies a lot of your curiosities. I also hope it raises more questions. ;)
Please R&R! I love hearing from all of you. It keeps me going. Also, if you haven't already, take a gander at the poll on my profile if you are interested in reading an original full-length novel by me! As always, enjoy.
#001736, Experiment #01
Oliver blew gently on the steaming cup of tea nestled in his hands, its warmth a welcome change from the stinging cold lingering from the brisk outside air. He closed his eyes and inhaled the familiar bergamot scent in an attempt to quell the unrest he felt aerating in the pit of his stomach.
It was unsuccessful, as it had mildly been for the last eleven years.
Though that day in particular, it was perhaps a touch more ineffective than usual, he noted.
As he continued to inhale the citrusy aroma, he was able to attribute its failure to two possible culprits. Two very distinct and very loud culprits.
The first, he thought, might have arisen on account of Mai's both foreign and familiar presence in his place of work. Back when he operated the original SPR branch in Japan, Mai frequented his office with cup after cup of his favorite tea, Earl Grey. So much, in fact, that he unconsciously began associating the citrusy scent with her person. He thought nothing of it throughout his stationing in Shibuya, as he was more preoccupied with recovering Gene's body.
He labored hard to ignore the strange connection they developed and how…uncomfortable it made him feel.
It was no secret that his social graces fell short of mediocre when he was a youth, but he was able to recognize in the end that he had found a friend in Mai and all their other colleagues. However, the idea of having so many new friends all at once was confusing and new, but not wholly uncomfortable at its core. No, the discomfort Mai triggered in him was not a result of their friendship, but rather at a unique feeling she aroused that no one else—not even his parents, Lin, Madoka, or even Gene—could. He could not explain why, but his connection to her felt…stronger. More…intimate? He supposed, for lack of a better term. He could not make hide nor hare of the feeling, and any explanation he could come up with at the time simply did not make sense. He did not know how to manage it and saw no benefit from talking about it, so he smothered it deeply beneath his work. It appeared to be for naught, however, because just before he returned home, she professed the feelings she had for him and it made his own feelings make sense. So he panicked and tried to create some distance—both from her and his feelings.
He had not noticed the association between Mai and Earl Grey until he returned home to London and caught himself reminiscing almost every time he inhaled its scent. It was simultaneously comforting and unnerving, and the paradox in and of itself was enough to drive him mad. He began to explore other flavors of tea to spare himself the trouble, but never eliminated Earl Grey from his diet completely because with or without Mai, it was still his favorite.
But surely after all these years that could not possibly still be bothering him! No, absolutely not, he avowed. How ludicrous. It had to merely be his association with discomfort that made the tea unsettle him. Or even more probable, it was the fact that Mai was in hat very office with him, which meant her son and the potential re-embodiment of his dead brother sat in an adjoining room, waiting for him.
Yes, that was it.
Oliver shook his head and took a long sip, focusing on the slight burning sensation in his throat from the still too-hot tea.
He liked to think that the second culprit was more to blame than the former.
Ever since he informed her of his business plans and they made the physical relocation to Tokyo, Ona, who had moments ago delivered the tea in question to his desk, had essentially been giving him the silent treatment. A puzzling and ironically very loud silent treatment. She spoke as few words to him as possible, but seemed to make an effort to make sure Oliver had not forgotten she was there and was still fuming. He replayed the scene that unfolded moments ago, feeling almost amused. She used her foot to push open his door like she often does, but the kickback was enough to bang it off the office wall. He assumed from her own startled expression that she had not intended her entrance to be so forceful, but rather more dramatic than anything. Ignoring the clamor, she said nothing to him as she set in front of him a small tray with his tea and a petite plate of biscuits; but her penetrating blue eyes never left his. She kissed him gently on the cheek, turned on her sleek black heels, and slammed the door as she exited.
She'd come around soon, he hoped. They had at least come a long way from the bitter argument they shared the day he broke the news.
"I'm sorry, I don't think I heard you correctly," Ona warned, eyeing Oliver from the floor to his eyes. "You plan on doing what?"
"I am making arrangements to open a branch office of BSPR in Japan to undertake the case," he repeated, making sure to enunciate each syllable.
"So I did hear you correctly, then," Ona deadpanned.
"It does appear that way."
"And it never occurred to you to run this by me first?" Her voice was thick with upset.
"It is my executive decision, as I am the head of the office."
"But this doesn't affect just you!" she cried. He blinked, calculating the possibility that he had indeed made a mistake. "Noll, we are just going to uproot our life here? Leave our families behind?!"
"It is not a permanent arrangement, Ona," he explained. She considered his statement, shifting her weight from one foot to another.
"Then how long will we be there?" She bit her lip.
"There is no way to be sure as of right now. It could be weeks, months, years—"
"YEARS?! Noll!" She scolded.
"Ona?" he egged.
"THIS IS A BIG DEAL! What in the hell possessed you to all of a sudden think, 'hmmm, deracinating my whole life and risking my entire career for some long-lost girl based on the slim chance that a child is my deceased brother' was a good idea?!" She scuffed her foot on the ground in emphasis. Oliver narrowed his eyes.
"I have weighed the pros and cons," he insisted.
"Oh have you now," Ona retorted, voice laced with sarcasm.
"I have," he returned, rolling his eyes. "As my secretary—"
"Oliver Davis, I am not just your secretary right now. I am your girlfriend."
"Ona, you know we have to maintain boundaries between our professional and personal lives—"
"That rule ends when our work life threatens the very foundations of our personal life."
He had not considered that angle. Perhaps she had a point.
"If it is your personal life you worry about, you can stay behind at the London office," he offered. She gasped, clearly reading further into what he said than he had intended.
"Do you not…want me to go with you…?" Expression unchanging, Oliver took a moment to contemplate her question. He didn't not want her to go. Is that the same concept? Before he could respond, she continued in an eerily calm voice. "Wow." Perhaps he had taken too much time to think. "Wow, okay then. You know what? Get stuffed, Oliver. Have fun with her," she seethed. She gathered her red peacoat from the kitchen table and made her way towards the front door.
"Ona, wait," Oliver called after her, taking several steps towards her. She stopped and turned to meet his gaze, her face flushed from anger and her eyes glossing over as if she were about to cry. "Why are you leaving? This is your apartment."
She blinked, then threw her hands above her head in frustration with an exasperated yell. "Is that it then?"
"Oh please what, Noll?"
This time he did not pause before answering. "I do want you to accompany me to Japan. I think you are a valuable asset and I do not want you to think that I do not appreciate you. Will you at least consider it?" The fuming blonde eyed him once again.
"Fine. But please, leave. I need to be alone right now." Oliver nodded, grabbing his own black coat from the table. "Oliver," she called after him, stopping him at the front door frame. "I… I'll see you tomorrow at work, then."
After taking time to think about the opportunity, she accepted his invitation, and despite giving him the silent treatment, she had helped him prepare for the move when he needed her. In many ways, the silence between them made the process even easier, so it wasn't a total loss. He figured their equilibrium would return after they had fully settled into their new space, so reconciliation was nigh.
He took another sip of his tea and glanced at the golden clock hanging on the wall in front of his desk. 10:59. He had best be going. He stood up and brushed the wrinkles out of his long-sleeved, black dress shirt and re-tucked it in at the waist. No use in being late for an appointment for the first time in his career.
Even if the client was a child.
With as much pride as he could muster, Oliver carefully settled himself into one of two child-sized chairs at a child-sized table. He was so low to the ground that with his feet planted firmly on the floor, his knees reached the height of his upper abdomen. If he tried to cross his legs, the chair would surely buckle or he would tip over backwards, so with gritted teeth he pressed his knees together and settled his clipboard onto his legs. When Mai designated this room to house the majority of their research directly related to Hisashi, he had insisted she include an adult-sized desk chair—perhaps something with a cushion that fit more than just half of his bottom—but she was adamant that Oliver needed to be "on the same level as him" and "not an intimidating, scary-looking doctor-scientist guy who asked a lot of weird and confusing questions." Her words exactly. Ona had actually supported Mai's reasoning, citing something or another about making Hisashi feel comfortable and like he was talking to a friend and not being subjected to an interrogation. He could think of no counter argument other than his back might go into spasms considering the disproportional height between him and the chair, and that was hardly an argument at all in the face of research. So there he was, sitting uncomfortably in a room that was painted and decorated in a garish way that reminded him of a daycare.
Oliver sighed quietly and eyed the only other inhabitant of the room: Hisashi, who was sitting on the other side of the table surrounded by crayons, paper, animal crackers, and two apple juice boxes. He was scribbling nonsensically, which was what Oliver had hoped for; the child, he reasoned, would perform better if he had a distraction to lessen the pressure and create a more casual atmosphere. On his clipboard he attached a sheet with a series of questions he wanted to ask to establish a foundation for future, more in-depth interview sessions, but he also made sure to include several blank sheets of notebook paper in case something else was to arise.
At the top of the questionnaire, he wrote 'Case #001736, Experiment #01, reached into his breast pocket to retrieve an audio recorder, took a deep breath, and hit record.
"Good morning," Oliver began, tearing the boy's attention away from his drawing for the first time. Hisashi grinned widely.
"Hi!" He answered. He dropped the crayon he had been holding to take a sip from his juice box.
"What is your name?"
"Taniyama Hisashi!" He giggled, fidgeting in his seat a bit.
Oliver clicked the end of his pen to prepare to write. "And do you know who I am?"
Hisashi thought for a moment. "Yeah!" Oliver raised an eyebrow.
"Do you remember my name?"
"Yeah!" Hisashi giggled.
"What is my name?"
"I dunno," Hisashi shrugged, grabbing a red crayon and returning to his drawing. Oliver stared at him blankly, trying to smother a flicker of annoyance smoldering in his chest.
"So you do not know who I am?"
"Uh-uh, I do know you!"
"Then what is my name?" Oliver repeated.
Hisashi's boyish face contorted in deliberation. Again, he shrugged. "I dunno." Oliver sighed heavily.
"My name is Oliver Davis." Hisashi again returned to his drawing, switching to a black crayon.
"I knew that," he replied, sticking out his tongue in concentration.
"Right, of course you did." He pinched the bridge of his nose. If this was any indication of how the rest of this case was going to unfold, he thought, then he had to hope to whatever divinity that this would all be worth it in the end. "Hisashi, do you—"
"Would you like a juice box?!" the boy interrupted, a look of pure innocence plastered on his face.
Oliver blinked. "No, thank you. Do you—"
"Are you sure? Juice is really yummy and I have two," he insisted, holding up the unopened juice box. "I share a lot."
"Again, no thank you Hisa—" He stopped himself that time when Hisashi's face lit up in understanding.
"Do you not know how to poke the straw through? Here, I'll do it!" He giggled, unwrapping the straw and poking through the foil hole. Oliver felt the annoyance in his chest intensifying. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. "Here you go," Hisashi finished, holding the box out to Oliver proudly. Oliver opened his eyes and took the box, carefully measuring his breath.
"Thank you," he supplied, setting it down in front of him. "Hisashi, do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"Nope," he answered finally without interrupting. Oliver's shoulders dropped in disappointment. This was not productive—"But I did Before," the boy amended. The scientist perked up again. Perhaps it was still too early to make any judgments. He began jotting notes down as the boy intently colored.
"'Before'?" he repeated.
"Yeah," Hisashi confirmed.
"What do you mean by 'Before'?" He sat forward a bit, waiting for an answer.
"Idunnowhatchumean," Hisashi mumbled as he stuffed his mouth full of animal crackers. Oliver cringed.
He would do well to remember he was dealing with a child. He needed to approach the questioning differently.
"You mentioned you had brothers or sisters Before," he reiterated. The boy nodded without looking up. "But you do not have them now." Again, the boy nodded. "Do you remember anything about your brothers or sisters from Before?" Hisashi ceased his coloring again to think, but still did not look up.
"I do sometimes," he responded.
"Yeah," he nodded, gently clenching and unclenching his tiny fingers. "I remember but sometimes I don't remember. It's too hard."
"Why is it hard?"
Silence fell between the two of them. Hisashi stared down at his drawing. Oliver tapped his foot impatiently.
Several minutes passed without an answer. The annoyance moved from his chest to his throat, sitting like a rock.
Finally, the boy spoke. "It's empty." Oliver raised an eyebrow again.
"Yeah. It…" His face lit up once again. "Oh! Lemme show you!" He grabbed a blank sheet of paper and a blue crayon, clearly proud of his brilliant idea. "It's like this, okay?" He drew a crude stick figure. "That's me." He added hair and drew what Oliver assumed to be giant muscles on his arms. Hisashi giggled. Oliver rolled his eyes internally, wishing he would get on with it. With a purple crayon he drew a large, oblong circle above his head. "That's thinking."
"Your thinking?" Oliver clarified.
He nodded. "Yeah. In my head." His mind, Oliver deduced. The child picked up a yellow crayon and harshly scribbled a large blob on the opposite side of the paper with an orange circle above it, identical to the purple one. "That's me," Hisashi explained before drawing a long red line down the middle of the paper.
"So this is you," Oliver indicated to the blue stick figure, "And this is also you?" he asked, moving his finger to the yellow blob. It reminded him of the yellow blob in the drawing documented in the photo Mai showed him. The one etched on her wall.
"Yeah, that's me. But this is me now," he said, pointing to the blue muscled man. "That was me Before," he added, pointing to the yellow splotch. "Get it?" Oliver took his first sip of his apple juice, wishing momentarily that it was a nice, hard liquor. The explanation was so disjointed that Oliver knew he would have to decipher it several times later. The thought aggravated him. How could he be stumped by a child? He was Dr. Oliver Davis, with two PhD's for heaven's sake.
Hisashi went to reach for the green crayon, but at the last second opted for the pink. Between the representations of the two characters 'minds,' he draw another oblong circle, outlining it several times for emphasis and making sure it intercepted the two original circles.
"This is what I think. What both I's think," he clarified. "I share," he explained, indicating to the white space in the pink circle. He then pointed to where the pink circle interlinked with the purple. "This is what I remember. But I don't always remember because this," he pointed at the pink circle alone, "is empty sometimes."
Well at least he finally explained what "it's empty" means. Even if it was the most convoluted answered he could have asked for. He would have to have the child elucidate further on his yellow-blob self in another session. He was sure that would be too much in this session—if not for Hisashi, for him.
This case was bizarre and like nothing he had ever researched before.
Oliver glanced at a clock on the wall. Nearly an hour had passed and he needed to move on to his next engagement soon, and he had barely even scraped the surface. He still had several blank questions. He clenched his teeth, resigning to getting one final answer to a question he asked earlier.
"Before I go Hisashi, can I ask you one more question?" He nodded. "Do you remember anything about your brothers and sisters from Before?" The boy took a final sip from his juice and crushed the box in his hands with a dinosaur noise. He giggled to himself.
For the love of god. He formed an even more direct question.
"Did you have brothers or sisters?" His voice had more edge to it than he intended.
"Brother," he answered quickly, detecting the annoyance in the scientist's voice. "One"
He wrote 'one brother' on his sheet and circled it many times.
"Did you have a brother mister? I think you had a brother." Oliver felt his heart skip a beat. He had not anticipated that.
"I did have a brother."
And with that, the dam burst and the boy began firing off a tirade of questions. In one breath, he began: "Where is he now? Did he like juice, too? Did he look like you? What was his favorite color? What was his favorite food? Did he like cars? Where is he—"
"He's dead," Oliver interrupted harshly, wishing to put an end to the overwhelming outburst. The boy stopped talking all at once. Oliver observed his face. Red cheeks, quivering lip, glassy eyes…
Hisashi began to cry. Loudly.
Oliver widened his eyes and grabbed the voice recorder, fumbling it in his hands to turn it off as quickly as he could. He felt his heart pounding in his chest. What was he supposed to do? He did not mean to make him cry! How was he supposed to know that would upset him? He rarely ever worked with children! Especially alone!
"Uh," Oliver stuttered. He grimaced at his impropriety. He was intelligent; he could figure this out. He pushed himself off the chair and kneeled down beside the wailing boy, hesitantly patting him on the shoulder. "There, there?" he tried. No effect. He continued to cry. Oliver pursed his lips.
He would not allow himself to panic.
He placed his hand gently on Hisashi's back, rubbing it awkwardly. "I'm sorry, I did not mean to—" To his surprise, the boy grabbed tiny fistfuls of his shirt and clung to him, now crying into his chest and trying to give him a hug. Oliver was as still as stone, wide-eyed, perplexed, and completely unsure of how he was supposed to react.
After a few moments, Oliver loosely brought his arms around the sniveling youth, praying this is what he needed to be consoled. The embrace was very stilted, but once Oliver's arms reached around him, Hisashi began to pacify himself.
Oliver let out a huge breath he did not know he was holding.
"I-I-I-I'm s-so s-s-sorry th-that I f-f-forgetted he i-is d-d-d-dead, tha-that's s-so s-s-s-s-sad!" Hisashi blubbered into his shirt.
So that's why he was crying. Not because he raised his voice. Oliver mentally noted that he was very sensitive about death so he could explore it at a later time.
"It's okay, Hisashi. He went to a better place. Please, stop crying," he pleaded gently but urgently. The boy nodded, pulling his face away from the refuge of his shirt. He settled himself back down into his chair, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. "O-okay. Can I go back to coloring now?" He sniffled.
Oliver ran a hand slowly through his hair. Quite the rapid attitude change. How do children manage that so damn fast?
He sighed, suddenly feeling very exhausted. "Yes, of course." Hisashi cheered and returned to his original masterpiece. Oliver stood up carefully, realigning his spine as he stood. "Hisashi," he called. "Would you mind if I kept this drawing?" he asked, softly picking up the bizarre sketch Hisashi used to explain his…whatever it was.
"Uh-huh!" he chirped, returning to his artistic state of mind, humming a tune he did not recognize.
"Thank you," Oliver nodded, clipping to his board and swiftly making his way towards the door. He opened the door and stepped outside to make his way to his office, nearly colliding with Lin, who was carrying a steaming cup of tea in the direction of Oliver's office.
"My apologies," Oliver expressed, inclining his head towards the tall Chinese man.
"It's fine," he replied, nodding back. "I thought you might want this when you were done," he said, indicating at the tea cup. His eyes fell towards Oliver's breast pocket. He raised an eyebrow. "What happened to you?" Oliver glanced down. There was a very large tear stain on his shirt, accented by shiny snotty streaks. "Do I want to know?" Oliver straightened his collar and straightened his back to create the façade of dignity.
"It is of no pressing concern," he declared, striding past the man. He heard Lin chuckle under his breath. Oliver rolled his eyes.
"Wait!" a voice called from behind him. It belonged to Hisashi. Oliver sighed and turned his neck to acknowledge him.
"You forgetted your juice!"
Oliver pinched the bridge of his nose as the boy clumsily ran towards him with the juice box.
"Guess you won't be needing this, then," Lin concluded with a smirk, taking a sip of the tea for emphasis.
"What is so amusing?" he demanded, taking the juice from Hisashi with a quick and quiet 'thank you'.
"I don't see you frazzled very often. It's a change of scenery."
Oliver pinched the bridge of his nose in annoyance.
Once Lin was out of site, he began sipping on the undersized straw in defeat.