Summary: Being called to a suburban neighborhood in Shibuya to investigate a dreadful wailing isn't the only case that SPR has to deal with. There's the little matter of the haunted dancing shoes, too…
This story is dedicated to Yamikakyuu on livejournal, whom I owe two birthday presents to. Happy birthday, Yami-buns!
A fair warning: there will, of course, be random crossovers with any which anime that I choose. Please don't ask me which ones, be patient and see. Many, many thanks to my fabulous beta-reader, TitianWren. Without her, this story would be appallingly mistake-ridden.
A second posting? What gives??
It recently came to my attention via myself, that not only was I dissatisfied with this original chapter, but that it was lacking elements from its parent story, Shades of Lust. The love triangle between Mai, Lin, and Naru, for instance? And that's an important one. There are other facets from SoL that weren't cleared up that also need to be taken into account. So, being the dedicated author that I am, I printed this chapter out, all nineteen pages of it, and took it with me to Israel and worked on it during the odd times when I had a chance. I like this version better and I hope each and every one of you do, too.
Thanks for re-reading!!
Chapter one: Ghost Story
Mai was sitting in a classroom and writing frantically. It was her History Midterm and she'd been late for it. She only had five minutes to finish ten essay questions. Someone—she didn't know who—had apparently had enough of her ignoring them. Gliding over to her, they took her hand and tried to pull her away from the desk. Mai protested fiercely. There was one minute left and she still had one more essay to complete. The person in question, however, would not be dissuaded by a test. A hand gently gripped her arm and pulled her away from the desk. Their other hand landed on her waist and twirled her right into the middle of a bubbling party. The blue hoop skirt flared out beautifully; she felt that she could actually breathe despite the restricting corset beneath her gown's bodice. Her mysterious dance partner stood just to the side of her, holding out his hand to her expectantly.
Dance with me, his stance said.
Her heart beat madly inside her chest. How she loved this man! Tossing back her head and laughing, Mai twirled again, beckoning him closer. As he approached her, she thought she heard bells tolling—they sounded so far away, but so very near, as if she was wearing them. But her dress had silver ribbons, not bells. The dance began amid the laughing faces of the party attendants, but soon they disappeared and she found herself outside, in the rain, dressed in nothing but a night shift; her soaked hair slapped her face every time she twirled, but she didn't care. Her body felt languid and heavy, twirl, twirl, as the laudanum took effect…oh, yes, so much laudanum, enough to dull the pain, enough that she didn't register the frigid, heavy, feeling of her daddy's revolver weighing her down.
Twirl, twirl, closer to the lake… yes, there. She spun and spun until she was thigh-deep in the water. Her spins were sluggish as the amassed water and soaked garments slowed her already lethargic body down.
She raised the gun, cocked the hammer back… still dancing, wanting so badly for him to share this last dance with her… a deafening sound followed and then she was falling, falling, into the black waters that greeted her with open arms. She took a breath and water filled her lungs; she felt her lungs protest and try to draw air. More water entered. Between shooting herself and the water entering her lungs, her body had finally had enough. Her eyelids drifted closed, but not before she saw the weeping figure at the lake's shore, searching for something with a strange fervor. Then she was gone.
Mai bolted upright in her bed and gasped for breath. Sweat dripped off her steadily as she breathed in raggedly. She felt her knuckles start to protest and she let go of her quilt. Taking another lungful of oxygen, she tried to focus on anything but the feeling of being shot and breathing in nothing but water. Combined, they were worse than the memories she'd experienced during the Urado case, and the feeling of a knife cutting across her neck still terrified her. Mai's mind raced while she tried to get her breathing to even out. Certainly that dream hadn't been normal—it hadn't felt normal. Maybe it would pertain to work somehow? Sniffling, she wiped her nose on her pajama sleeve and climbed out of bed. Padding down the short hall, she went into the bathroom and snatched the dully glowing nightlight from its socket; she didn't need to see herself in the mirror. She was sure she looked like hell warmed over. Turning on the faucet, she splashed her face with water a few times to get rid of the residual sweat and grime. Not bothering to turn and grab at her bath towel hanging behind her, she wiped her face with her sleeve, and made her way back to her room. Crawling back into bed, she grabbed the portable phone off the small lamp table and dialed the number she knew by heart.
Lin woke up on the second ring. It couldn't be time to get up yet, could it, he wondered, looking around blearily. His eyes focused on the digital clock. The red block numbers showed that it was far from time, being only two in the morning. Definitely not time to wake up. The phone rang again and he frowned, more awake this time. Sighing he reached out for the noisy appliance, hoping that whoever was calling at such a god-awful hour had a damn good reason for it. If it was Madoka, he was going to see about getting her fired, no matter how futile the effort was. No case or assignment was worth a two a.m. phone call.
"Hello?" he rasped.
For a moment there was no answer, then, "It's me. I'm sorry I woke you."
All vestiges of sleep disappeared; worry surged through him. "Mai? What's wrong? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she said. "I just—"
"What? Mai?" he asked, when she didn't answer. He could pretty well guess the answer, however. The only reason she would call at such an hour was if she'd had a dream that was far from normal. "Mai?" Lin asked again.
"Nothing—I just wanted you to wish me luck tomorrow—well, later today and remind you that Yasuhara-san and I will be late because of our midterm.
And you called me at two a.m. for that, he thought, not believing her one bit. "Mai…"
"No, honestly. You didn't wish me luck at all," she insisted.
Actually, he had. Several times. Lin dropped his head resignedly. "Good luck," he said sincerely, "although with all the studying you and Yasuhara-san did, I doubt you need it. And tomorrow, you are going to tell me what this was all about."
"Okay," she said. He heard her hesitate. "Thanks. Good night," she said, hanging up the phone.
"What was that?"
Lin looked over at the doorway that separated his room from his boss's . "Nothing. Wrong number. Go back to sleep," he said, rolling onto his stomach and feigning sleep. For a moment, Naru stayed right where he was; Lin could practically feel the frustration rising from the young scientist.
"Liar," came the quiet hiss. "That was Mai. I know it was."
Sighing, Lin said, "She wouldn't tell me anything—like she usually doesn't. Despite everything that's happened, she still keeps things to herself until she's ready to tell us. You and I both know that if we try to force anything out of her, she'll simply clam up and refuse to say a word."
His explanation seemed to satisfy Naru and Lin heard the door close. Stupid competition, he thought, shifting again. Poor Kasai-san. Lin frowned wondering if her dream indicated a new case or something that was going to happen to her. Probably the latter, he thought. Maybe both.
Do you wish to send one of us to protect her?
Lin thought for a moment. Go, he ordered. He felt the spirit summon speed off to her.
Later that day…
Chiaki was anxious—why, she didn't know, but she'd been agitated for several days. I know Naru suspects that something's wrong, but I just can't tell him. I don't even know what's bothering me—well… I don't know how to put it into words, to be more precise. All I know is that it's centered around Mai. I wish I could pinpoint… stop, she commanded herself firmly. You have something you're working on right now. You begged Lin-san to allow you to start with a teacup today. Focus on that! Mai will be here when she gets here, Chiaki! Besides, Lin-san would know if she's in trouble!
With that, she focused on her task at hand. Teacups were delicate things, not much power was needed to levitate them. Lin-san told her that she needed to refine her output—or so he told her when she'd looked confused over his technical jargon—which, she still didn't get.
"Simply stated, Kasai-san, you tried to use way too much power for bending a spoon or key when you were in high school."
Well that she understood. In her mind, she traced the teacup, keeping an ear out for Mai's cheerful greeting. Concentrate, dammit! The teacup was plain; the porcelain it was crafted from was fine, but it was white and—
--"Boring!" Mai confided to her in the kitchenette a few days ago, as she poured freshly made tea into the china cups. She paused in her task and looked over at her co-worker. "We should buy a new set," she said, watching Chiaki arrange some pastries on a large plate.
"But Naru likes these!" Chiaki protested with a small smile.
"Naru has no sense of what pleasant décor is," Mai retorted, scowling at the cups.
Chiaki looked at them again. "They are very ugly," she conceded.
"So we'll splurge and buy something new," Mai said, grinning.
A full smile blossomed on Chiaki's face. "Okay, deal!"
"But let's keep this secret from Naru."
"Absolutely! I want to see his face when we bring in a new set!"
"It's a promise!"
"You're not concentrating, Kasai-san," came the disappointed murmur.
Am too! she snarled mentally. She forced all thoughts from her mind and forced herself to see the cup float.
"Kasai-san!" Lin said sharply just as a loud 'chink' sounded in the small office. His rebuke effectively shattered what was left of her concentration.
Opening her eyes, she found her teacher looking at her reprovingly. "I asked you to levitate the cup, Kasai-san, not ruin it," he said nodding to the teacup that still sat in the middle of his desk in two pieces.
Shame flooded her. "I'm sorry," she said in a small voice. "I really am!" she cried, her voice holding a hint of desperation; she continued eagerly, "I know that's the fifth cup this week—"
"Seventh," Lin corrected, picking up the pieces and throwing them out. After deliberating for a second, he ditched the saucer, too.
Chiaki gaped at the tall man. "Seventh!" she cried.
Lin nodded. "Kasai-san," he began, pinning her with his eyes. "Is something wrong?"
She frowned. Something wasn't right, but she really didn't know how to articulate it. It might be a false alarm—but then again, it might be something. She knew that Lin would listen, but that required trying to put her concern into word format. And she just didn't want to bother Lin unnecessarily.
"I just don't think that levitating tea cups is worth my time anymore," she told him, flipping her silvery hair over her shoulder.
The look Lin gave her in response told Chiaki two important things. First, she wasn't funny and second, he absolutely did not believe her. "I can't imagine why you'd request to start with them, then," he said coolly. "Especially when you've been able to levitate them for months, now."
Chiaki flinched. Score, she groused.
"This has been going on for a few days now. Your concentration has been wild and unfocused. It's proving detrimental. You and Mai will soon be able to buy new china, at this rate."
Chiaki's eyes widened and she looked up at Lin. A small, amused smile played about his mouth.
Mai, she thought menacingly. You and your big mouth! "Don't you dare tell Naru about that," she groused.
"Mai didn't tell me and I wouldn't dream of telling Naru. I want to see his face when you two bring that new china in. Get something decorative and fancy, just to annoy him," he said, chuckling softly at her stunned expression. He sobered soon enough and focused on her again. "Speaking of Naru, however, would you rather talk to him?"
"No!" she said quickly, a blush blossoming across her cheekbones. She couldn't talk to him, period.
"Speaking of Mai, where is she?" Chiaki asked, trying to distract him. She just couldn't tell him.
"In class," he said patiently. "She had a midterm today and she'll be a bit late. Please don't change the subject."
Chiaki frowned. Damn the man, he was forcing her to articulate what was simply a feeling. She hated it. "Lin-san, what was the day like when Mai collapsed?" she asked suddenly.
"That's happened several times, Kasai-san. Do you have a more specific timeframe in mind?"
"After the lust spell at her school."
Lin frowned and considered her question. "It was a pleasant day, actually," he began, thinking back to that day nearly two years prior when Shibuya Psychic Research had been called back to Mai's school to deal with a lust spell. "The weather was nice and cool, the sun was shining, and the cherry blossoms were beautiful. I, however, was anxious; my Shiki were the same. Naru was in a foul mood; Takigawa-san and Brown-san both called asking about Mai—so did Yasuhara-san, now that I think about it."
"Yasuhara-san?" Chiaki asked, incredulity coloring her voice. John and Bou-san made sense—they were both psychic, but Yasuhara-san was not. "Did he also ask if Mai was okay?" she asked tentatively.
"He did," Lin confirmed.
"But… why?" she asked, her voice trailing off.
"I don't know precisely," Lin said, looking at his student steadily. "I can only assume that the spell somehow forged a deeper connection between all of us and Mai."
Deeper connection? Chiaki wondered, looking at the spot where the teacup had been. A fine, white spatter of dust was the only thing that remained. Deeper connection… it struck a chord, even with Chiaki herself. An idea struck and she looked up at the Chinese man. Is he referring to that— "Lin-san, are you talking about—"
The bell above the door chimed merrily. "Excuse me, is this Shibuya Psychic Research?"
"It's an interesting phenomenon, don't you think?" the Chinese man asked, a small smile decorating his face.
Chiaki's eyes widened as she tried to puzzle out what, exactly, Lin meant by that cryptic statement.
"Umm… hello? Is this… a bad time? Is the office closed for lunch?"
"Kasai-san," Lin said gently, "If Naru has to greet a potential client, he'll be very upset. You and I both know that customer service isn't one of his strong suits."
Chiaki snapped out of her befuddled funk. And in lieu of Mai or Yasuhara-san being here, it's my job to be the greeter, she told herself. She could mull over Lin-san's cryptic comment later. Standing, she quickly made her way out to the reception room.
"I'm sorry. This is Shibuya Psychic Research and no, we're not closed," she said, smiling at the gentleman who milled around uncertainly at the door. "Please come in and have a seat," the college student continued, ushering him over to the couch. Can I get you something to drink? Tea? Coffee?"
"Erm… if it's not too much trouble—"
"Mai! Tea!" came the irritable call from a door further to the back of the room.
Chiaki turned to the door and frowned at it. "Idiot scientist!" she muttered, watching Lin go over to the door—presumably to remind Naru that Mai had a midterm and hadn't arrived yet, and oh, they had a customer. She turned back to the gentleman sitting in front of her. "Sir? You were saying?" she asked, observing his exotic features.
She could see the Asian heritage he'd gotten from someone in his family in the high cheekbones, almond-shape of his eyes and the dark liquid color of his irises, but his skin was a tanned, russet color that made her wonder what other ethnic heritage he'd gotten. All in all, she told herself, looking at his high forehead, well-sculpted mouth and blue-black hair, he's a very handsome man.
"Iced water with lemon, if you don't mind? I don't drink that much tea and unless I make coffee my way, I won't drink it. You know what they say," he said, grinning nervously. "It's my way, or the highway."
"I've never heard that expression before. Where do they say that?" Chiaki asked curiously, watching him toy fretfully with his wedding band.
"Ah," he said, his hands stilling momentarily. "It's pretty common in America." His hand began to twist the band again.
"That's very pretty," Chiaki said, nodding at the corded, silvery band. "Is it white gold?"
"Platinum, actually, but that was a good guess."
Platinum, yes. My engagement and wedding rings will be platinum, she told herself, looking over at the closed door. I just need to get the groom to notice me, first! Turning back to their client, she smiled again. "I'll be right back with your water," Chiaki said, hearing the door to Naru's office open again. Excusing herself, she went into the kitchenette to prepare some tea and their guest's ice water. When she emerged a few minutes later, she wondered if a knife wouldn't work on the thick veil of tension that threatened to choke her. Naru sat in his customary chair, imposing as always and reading from his folder. Lin was nowhere in sight. Sighing, she approached Naru and set down his tea, resisting the urge to slap his head. How Mai managed to deal with this, Chiaki had yet to figure out. Moving to the potential client's side, she set down a tall glass of water and a plate of lemon wedges, thinking that if he was persnickety about coffee, he was probably the same with water. The small grin and lighting of his dark eyes let her know that she'd been correct.
Picking up two lemon slices, he squeezed the juice and pulp into water, dropped the used wedges in after, stirred the water briskly and took a long swallow. Placing the tray on the coffee table, Chiaki took a seat just as Naru closed his folder. Picking up his tea, he took a sip and focused on the gentleman.
"Mr…?" he trailed off.
"Takamoto. Alejandro Takamoto."
"That's an extremely unusual name," Naru commented, his expression bland.
Alejandro shrugged. "Nevertheless, it is my name," he replied, offering no further explanations.
"Takamoto-san, what brings you to SPR today?"
Mai wrote frantically. She was on her last question and there were four minutes left. Because of her horrible nightmare, she'd made certain to arrive at least forty-five minutes early. Yasuhara-san had been very surprised when he arrived after her, rather than before. When he'd asked, she simply said, "I had a dream that I was late and had only five minutes."
Her co-worker had winced and nodded understandingly. She didn't tell him the rest of her strange nightmare. Instead, she'd asked him to review again with her, just to make sure she'd gotten everything important. The bespectacled investigator had given her an exasperated sigh and grudgingly pulled out his notes. "I know there's no such thing as too much studying, but honestly, this is overkill, Taniyama-san."
She knew that. She did, but here she was, two minutes left and she felt like she'd missed an important point on early Gothic architecture. It didn't help that one of Koujo's Shikigami was floating around her, curious as ever about her test. Biting her lip fretfully, she tried to ignore the demon servant and wracked her brains trying to figure out what she had missed. She had the cross-shaped nave, flying buttresses, towers? Gargoyles… she didn't know if those were truly important, however. Tapping her pencil tip frantically against the desk she reprimanded herself to calm down and think. There was way more to it…
"Pencils down!" the professor called, ignoring groans and pleas that begged for a few more seconds, Mai being one of them. "Pencils down," she repeated.
Resignedly, Mai put her writing utensil down on the desk and cursed mentally.
"Pass your papers to the front. Taniyama, collect the tests, please."
"Ah, yes, sensei," she replied, standing and beginning to pile the sheets together as they surged resentfully to the front. Walking over to the teacher's desk, she gave the papers a few perfunctory shakes and set the straightened stack down before retaking her seat.
"Settle down, settle down. Midterm is done. Don't get too excited," the teacher warned, when a few cheers were offered at her statement. "We're going straight for term papers. These will count for forty percent of your grade. I'll explain more on the assignment tomorrow. Speaking of tomorrow, don't forget that we will meet at the Tokyo National Museum. Those of you who will end up missing classes and/or work, please be sure to see me after class. You're all dismissed."
A miniature cacophony began. Immediately, the students who needed to talk to the professor bounded to the front and formed a small crowd around the professor's desk; those who didn't began to chatter and complain about everything—especially the test, Mai noted. And tomorrow, she told herself gathering her stuff, it will be the term paper after Professor Hisae gives us the details. Mai joined none of the chatting; she didn't have time to dally. She was already late—she and Yasuhara-san both. She could hear Naru now: "If you have time to dally, then you have time to file, clean, and make tea. Make the tea first." Hefting her bag onto her shoulder, she walked out of the classroom. Just outside the door, Yasuhara Osamu lounged lackadaisically against the wall, his nose buried in a book. When he saw her step out, he marked his place and pushed himself away, approaching her side. She gave him a welcoming smile.
"How did you do?" he asked, falling into step with her as they navigated their way through the throng to the stairs.
"Not too badly," Mai replied, grinning up at him. "Thanks for helping me study!"
"No problem," he said. He looked at his watch. "Shibuya-san is going to be very upset with us. We're both late."
"Lin told him we had a midterm today," Mai reminded him.
"That's true, but you know Shibuya-san."
The brunette snorted. "Yes I do."
They lapsed into a comfortable silence as they made their way to the JR Yamanote Line.
"So?" Yasuhara asked when they were settled on the bus. Mai looked at him curiously. "What do you and Lin-san have planned for tonight?"
I'll be telling him about my dream earlier, that's for sure, she thought. After that… I know we were going to go out to dinner, but… She didn't know why, but she had the curious feeling that if they did get to go out, it wouldn't be for the dinner they'd planned. If. "I don't think we'll be able to do anything tonight," she said, with a perplexed frown.
Yasuhara looked at her in surprise. "Why do you say that? I thought you two had plans tonight."
Mai shrugged. "We work for a Psychic Research company. We might have a client," she said vaguely.
More like we will, Yasuhara thought, frowning. Over the years, Mai's pre-cognitive powers had definitely grown. What used to be 'could' or 'might,' was usually 'would' or 'will.' I guess Yuko-chan and I won't be going to that movie after all. Damn, but I was looking forward to seeing that film; it was supposed to be hilarious.
Another student settled down beside them. "Yasuhara-san? Taniyama-san? How did you two do on the midterm?"
Takamoto frowned and started when Lin suddenly entered the reception room and sat next to Chiaki. Alejandro looked at the newcomer curiously—as if he was trying to understand why the Chinese man had suddenly joined them.
Lin nodded to him politely. "Lin Koujo," he said simply.
"Takamoto Alejandro, pleased to meet you."
"And you, Takamoto-san," Lin replied in kind, his face betraying nothing at the unusual name their guest bore.
"Takamoto-san, please start from the beginning," Naru said.
"Call me Alejandro," he said, pulling a face. "Takamoto-san is so very stuffy." Naru said nothing and Alejandro's lips quirked into a small grin. "Tough cookie to crack, aren't you?" When there was no response, Alejandro sighed. "My company recently moved me to Japan a few months ago. We're finally settled in our house; the kids are temporarily finished with their complaints about the move—my wife and I thought that things were going well when it started. A dreadful caterwauling," he said, before Chiaki could ask. "My wife and I originally thought it was an animal—perhaps a stray cat. Our neighbors agreed, they said there was a vicious stray in the area. We tried to find the animal, but to no avail.
"We called the police to see if maybe they could find the creature, but they came up empty-handed. One of them, however, mentioned that he thought he heard a woman talking. The officer later chalked it up to the lateness of the hour—"
"When does this crying start?" Naru interrupted.
"At night—always at night."
Alejandro's brow furrowed. "It's not exact every night, but it's always before ten. Sometimes, it starts around eight, sometimes quarter to ten. As I was saying, the officer dismissed it as his imagination. A few nights later, my son woke us and asked why he couldn't see the person that he heard talking outside his window."
A shiver made its way down Chiaki's spine.
"Did you hear the talking, too?" Naru asked, his interest piqued.
"I heard vague whispering—nothing concrete, I'm afraid."
"What about your wife?"
"I don't know, honestly. There are times when I suspect that she has heard more than just a fuzzy sound, but when I ask her, she avoids the topic altogether."
"How long has this been going on?"
"About a month now."
"I see," Naru said. "What about your children? You mentioned your son couldn't see anyone talking—did he hear anything distinct?"
Alejandro frowned in thought. "Makoto's never mentioned anything concrete to me, but he's a quiet child; he doesn't talk very much. I'll ask him, however. My daughter, on the other hand— " he broke off and grinned. "Well, she's another story. Two nights before I made the decision to come talk to you, Ofelia came into our room before Chisato and I went to bed and asked her mother why she wanted to know where she and her brother were. 'We're in our rooms, right where we always are at this time of night.'" Alejandro offered them a bland smile when they stared at him. "Kids, right? They say the damnedest things. She then asked how her mother made it back inside so quickly when she'd just been outside. My wife hadn't been outside since early that morning to water the plants."
"Lin," Naru said, "please call Mai and Yasuhara-san—make sure they're on their way here. After that, please call the others and ask them to come to the office as soon as they can."
Yasuhara looked over at the person next to Mai and smiled. "Mizuno-san, how are you? I did well."
"Yes, I'm sure you did," she replied, adjusting glasses that were too large for her face. "Taniyama-san?"
"I think I did as well as I could," she replied, giving the dark-haired girl a small smile.
"If you'd like Taniyama-san, my friends and I are having a study session for the next test, and the one after that as well—you and Yasuhara-san are welcome to join us."
"You're having a study session already?" Mai asked, looking at Ami Mizuno in horror; her brain would register the words 'next test and the one after that' at a later time.
"Yes, you can never start studying too soon," she replied.
Yasuhara chuckled. "Thank you for the invitation, Mizuno-san—"
"Call me Ami," she interrupted.
"Ami-san. We'll let you know when the test date isn't so far down the road," Yasuhara said, adjusting his own spectacles and flashing his actor's smile at her. Next to him, Mai nodded emphatically.
"Please do. We'd be delighted if you joined us. I'm sure you would be a big help, Yasuhara-san."
"You're studying to be a doctor, right, Ami-chan?" Mai asked, making idle conversation as the bus began to move.
A soft smile lit Ami's face. "Yes. I haven't decided what branch of medicine, yet, though," she said thoughtfully. "What about you, Taniyama-san? What do you wish to study?"
"I was thinking parapsychology. I'd like to be a Ghost Hunter."
"That's…" Ami broke off, floundering for something to say in response to Mai's comment.
"An odd field?" Mai supplied, without rancor.
"Yes. I had no idea you were interested in such an occupation."
"Well… originally I wasn't."
"But… you obviously are now," Ami said, fiddling with her books.
Mai smiled. "Well… before… I didn't even know if I would go to college. But that's another story," she said hastily when Ami looked at her questioningly. "Anyhow, well, I work in the field and I enjoy it, so it would be nice to also study it, but that would probably mean going to England. In the interim, however, I was thinking business management."
"I see. I've met a few people who are gifted with psychic power."
"Really?" Mai asked politely. She'd dealt with people who said they had psychic powers, too. A good many of them were quacks. She'd begun to pick up Naru's cynicism after the Urado case in Suwa.
"Yes," Ami said, nodding. "I remember one vacation that my friend Rei booked—she's one person by the way. She's a miko—one of her specialties is fire reading. Anyhow, we went to a resort where the owner of the house was using hypnotism to make his daughter's powers come out. It caused such a ruckus at night."
"Hypnotism to make her powers show?" Mai asked, shocked. "That's very irresponsible." To put it mildly, that is. Psychic Research Societies have banned people for doing that, she thought, remembering what Lin had told her when she'd asked about using hypnotism on her own abilities. "'Rushing things can overload the system and cause a great amount of damage, physically and mentally,'" he told her. "'Be patient.'"
"Yes," Ami said, nodding sadly. "She lost control while she was still in her hypnotic state. It seemed like he had a semi-decent reason, however. He wanted her powers to be recognized by a Psychic Research Society."
I'm sure he was banned for that! "That's not an excuse—not at all," Mai protested, shaking her head furiously. "A person can't rush abilities—they need time to manifest on their own."
"But it was fascinating to see," Ami added, sensing that she'd upset Mai.
"See?" Yasuhara asked, looking at Mai.
"She caused poltergeist activities and likely something manifested," Mai concluded.
"Would that have been Psychokinesis or Extra Sensory Perception?"
"Poltergeist activity caused by humans is usually PK."
"How did you know?" Ami asked, surprised.
Yasuhara hid a smile. It was good to see Mai actually able to talk about what she knew or had experienced without Shibuya-san breathing over her shoulder.
Mai gave her a bland smile and Ami blushed. "That's right, silly me to ask!" the girl said.
"What about your friend, Rei? You said she's a miko?" Mai asked kindly.
"She is. She's very adept at fire reading. I know she's also performed exorcisms."
"Does she use Acala?" Mai asked.
"Fudou Myou? No, she uses kuji. Are you familiar with kuji, Mai-san?"
"I've seen it used upon a few occasions," Mai answered, opaquely.
More than, Yasuhara thought, thinking back to an army of drowned corpses, indentured Shikigami that possessed a Resort-owning family in Tokyo. Taniyama-san is very adept at using the kuji. She wasn't as skilled as Matsuzaki-san or Lin-san, Yasuhara knew, but it was all about practice. Of course, he thought with a grimace, she can't practice except on cases.
"You should talk to Rei, then. She'll be joining us at the museum tomorrow. I'll introduce you!"
"That would be nice, Ami-san," Mai said, giving a small smile. "I…" her phrase was lost when her cell phone began to wail a high-pitched, mechanical rendition of 'Sakura Kiss.' Naru hadn't appreciated the irony in her choice. "Excuse me a moment, won't you?" she asked, flipping the phone open and pressing it to her ear. "Hello—ah, Lin," she said, with a sad smile.
"What about your other friends?" Yasuhara asked, before Ami could voice her concerns about Mai's expression.
"Well…there's Mamoru, too. He's able to perform psychometry—you know, where a person touches something and is able to tell all about it."
"Does he, now?" Yasuhara replied, thinking of the other two that he knew could perform psychometry.
"Yes," Mai said, pressing her index finger into her free ear to block the noise from the bus and the two on either side of her. "We're on our way. Two more stops. Yes, we'll see you all very soon."
"Mai?" Yasuhara asked.
"That was Lin," she replied, disconnecting from the call and shoving the phone back into her bag.
"Ah," he said, looking at her meaningfully. "Guess you were right after all."
Mai gave him a dry smile. "So it would seem."
"Ami-san was just telling me that her best friend's boyfriend is able to perform psychometry."
"I don't understand exactly how it works, however. There are no good books explaining it that I've found. I have asked him once or twice, but he doesn't really know how to explain it, either."
This question, Mai felt she could answer relatively well. "Psychometry…" She didn't get the chance to go further. "Ah! Ami-san! Your stop!"
Looking out the window, she saw that Mai was correct. And she hadn't signaled the driver that she needed to get off. "Oh! Driver!" she cried. "Please stop!"
The driver came to a screeching stop, pitching the bus and its occupants forward. Standing, Ami walked calmly to the doors and with a final wave at Mai and Yasuhara, descended the steps before dashing off towards another bus. Muttering rudely under his breath, the driver got the bus moving again and Yasuhara looked at Mai incredulously. "What?" she asked.
"I always thought Mizuno-san was very shy," he said. "She doesn't talk very much in class and seems to only interact with her circle of friends."
"I thought the same. I guess we were wrong."
"So? What's this case going to be about?"
Mai simply shrugged.
"You're no fun," he complained.
"Sorry," she deadpanned.
"That's okay; I'm rather glad for it."
"Why's that?" Mai asked, quirking her brow at her associate.
"Things were getting boring around the office."
When Lin returned, Naru nodded to their prospective client. "Is there more?"
"That pretty much sums it up," Alejandro said.
"Is there a specific place that this occurs?"
Alejandro shrugged. "I'm not really sure what you mean by specific place, per se. I'd say no. The police officer was near our neighbor's house when he thought he heard the talking. Makoto's room and Ofelia's room are on opposite ends of the house—our room is right in the middle of the two. I don't think there's anything special there, either. It's a nice neighborhood, Hiroo. I'd say it's the only part of the move that the kids like—the houses are very similar to what we had in America."
"Have the neighbors commented about whispering or talking?" Naru asked.
Alejandro blinked. "I… haven't asked them," he said, sheepishly.
"Kids talk to each other," Lin said suddenly. "Have your son or daughter mentioned anything the neighborhood kids might have heard?"
"They haven't, but that doesn't mean anything."
Naru made a mental note to send Mai and Yasuhara-san to interview the neighbors. Surely they or the kids had heard something.
"Did you contact anyone for an exorcism?" Chiaki asked.
He turned to her. "My wife did, yes. There's a temple not very far away. I'm afraid that the head priest was unable to do anything."
"Why is that?" Lin asked. He'd seen Takigawa-san achieve some awesome feats. Unless the priest in question just wasn't worth his weight in salt, an exorcism should have been a success—or at least brought some modicum of peace.
Their client shrugged. "He didn't offer us any explanations."
Lin could hear Takigawa-san now and began to dread when that would become a reality.
"Takamoto-san, do you have rooms to spare?" Naru asked as the door to the office opened, admitting Mai and Yasuhara into the office.
"At least tell me where we're going!" Yasuhara pleaded.
Mai flushed when all eyes turned to her and Yasuhara. "Shh!" she cried, waving her hand at him in a dismissive gesture. Chiaki stifled a giggle, Lin blinked, and Naru aimed a reproving glare at his two investigators.
Naru turned back to their client, waiting.
The question finally sank in and a large, grateful smile spread on Alejandro's face. "You're taking my case? Really? Thank you, Shibuya-san, thank you! Of course I have room—but… you'll have to forgive any…messes. We're not quite finished unpacking."
"We'll need a room we can use for a base," Naru continued as if he hadn't heard the man. "A place where we can set up computers and other equipment. We'll also need rooms we can use for sleeping and what not. Three rooms total—base and two rooms that the ladies and men can share."
"Of course. When should we expect you?"
Naru looked at Mai, Yasuhara, and Chiaki. He made a mental note to talk to Chiaki when their client was gone. Mai shared a look with the bespectacled boy beside her. "Our class is meeting at the Tokyo National Museum tomorrow near Ueno Park. There's an exhibition that's going to be part of our term papers, apparently," Yasuhara said.
Naru nodded and then looked back at Chiaki. She had an odd look on her face that he couldn't place and was looking at Mai with a perplexed expression.
"Chiaki-chan?" Mai asked.
"My class… is also meeting at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno tomorrow."
Naru drummed his fingers against the table in frustration. That was complicated.
"It's the Civil War Exhibition, right?" Takamoto asked, suddenly.
Chiaki nodded, surprised.
"I thought so. It's well done, you'll like it—maybe. My family and I went there last weekend."
"You took your kids there?" Chiaki asked. "Isn't that a bit much for your daughter?"
Alejandro looked amused. "Ofelia's seven, not two and despite my obvious ethnic heritage, Miss Kasai, I am American—born and raised, might I add," he said deliberately in English. "So is my wife," he continued in Japanese. "Makoto and Ofelia are also American by birth. The Civil War, tragic and bloody as it was, is an important aspect of their heritage. So I took them to see what helped shape America."
Chiaki blushed and ducked her head.
"Well," Mai said to Yasuhara-san. "At least we know what exhibit we're seeing. Any guesses on what our term paper will be on?"
"Likely something about the relics there."
Mai grimaced but said nothing.
"Takamoto-san," Naru said, glaring at his subordinates who promptly fell silent, "please leave directions and contact information with Lin."
"Sure." Taking a proffered pad of paper, their client began to write out what Naru had requested.
"Yasuhara-san, please start looking into old records and whatnot. See if this has happened before; check local legends, news, anything."
"Yes, sir," Yasuhara said.
Naru turned to Mai. "Mai," he said.
"Give Bou-san another call since he didn't answer the first time. Make a fresh pot of tea after that. When you're through with that, help Yasuhara-san in the records room. Kasai-san, I need to talk to you first. You'll join Mai and Yasuhara-san on their project. I want you three to compile a report and I want it on my desk in the morning."
Chaiki nodded and began to clear away the cups that they'd used. Alejandro finished his own project and handed the pad, along with a business card back to Lin.
"Thank you, Takamoto-san. We'll call you before we set out," Lin said.
"Go to the exhibition with them and then come to our house," Alejandro suggested in a low voice.
Lin gave him a look that was part amusement, part annoyance. "I'll discuss it with Shibuya-san. Thank you, Takamoto-san."
Alejandro Takamoto inclined his head, before collecting his coat and exiting the office. Yasuhara disappeared into the Records Room to start their research project; Mai was laughing at something that Bou-san was telling her, and Chiaki, having collected the used utensils, made her way to the kitchenette. Naru watched her for a moment, before following her. He was going to get to the bottom of this mess… before anymore of his teacups were destroyed. Chiaki went over to the sink and began to wash the cups, placing them in the rack to dry. It didn't take her long. Taking out a small bag from a drawer, she put the remaining lemon slices into it and put them in the small fridge. Returning to the cups, she dried them and moved over to the cabinets.
"You've been distracted, recently," he said quietly, watching her. This was probably a touchy subject and needed to be handled carefully. Tact wasn't his strong point; that belonged to Yasuhara or Mai. Naru decided to be direct. Gene would likely scold him for it later, though.
Surprised, Chiaki spun around so fast that she tripped over her own feet. The china crashed to the ground and she felt herself descending. Closing her eyes, she braced herself for the pain that would soon follow and wished that Naru was anywhere but in the kitchen. When the pain didn't register, she wondered why. A soft sigh whispered in her ear and it took her brain a moment to comprehend that she'd never hit the ground in the first place; in fact, she was buried against a black-clad chest.
"See what I mean?" he asked quietly.
"You know," she started, feeling her cheeks heat up, "your jokes aren't funny," she finished, giving him a reproving frown.
"That's because I don't joke," he said, frowning back at her. Gripping her elbow, he steered her out of the kitchenette, leaving the glass and china mess behind to be cleaned later. He led her over to his chair and pushed her into it. Dragging the coffee table closer to it, he sat down in front of her. "What's wrong?" he asked quietly.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lin come out of his office, pause, take in the scene, and then return to his office. He could have sworn that there was a small grin on the Chinese man's face. The door to the Records Room was conspicuously closed and Mai was nowhere in sight. She definitely wasn't in the kitchen making his tea. Naru presumed that she was with Lin; he hoped the sorcerer would talk to her about the dream that had caused her to wake them up at two in the morning. It seemed his office was conspiring to give Naru and Chiaki some privacy. Naru didn't know whether to be annoyed or amused. Right then, he was neither; he was concerned.
"I don't know," she said.
"No, I'm being serious, Naru. I just don't know! I don't have any way of putting it into words."
"Try," he ordered tersely.
"I feel… unsettled—that's all."
He could work with that. "When did it start?"
"It started earlier this week, I think."
"Do you know what triggered it?" he asked next.
Chiaki frowned. "It had to do with Mai," she said softly, hoping he wouldn't hear.
"How do you mean?"
She frowned and considered the question that didn't ask 'what' but 'how.' "It…I saw Mai come into the office last Monday and the next thing I knew, I had the oddest sense something was going to happen, and to her. It was a faint niggling, but it was there. I dismissed it, thinking that I was just being silly or that Lin-san was going to surprise her with something. But that didn't happen and the feeling began to grow stronger. I couldn't concentrate on the lessons that Lin-san was teaching me; I could hardly concentrate on homework, and don't get me started on how badly I was spacing out during classes."
Naru felt a muscle in his cheek start to throb at the mention of Lin surprising Mai with something. Frowning he said, "Why didn't you talk to me earlier?"
"Because… I thought you'd scoff at it. I'm not… I don't have ESP; I thought I'd be mocked like I was back in—" she broke off and looked away, ashamed.
"This isn't high school anymore, Kasai-san," he said coolly. "And we're not going to scoff at you. Lin was so concerned that he's been mentioning it to me every day. I've been noticing your inattentiveness too, and it's not like you. I'm sure Mai's noticed something weird, along with Yasuhara-san. There are PK-users who also have ESP," he said, steadily. "I'm one of them, not to put too fine a point on it. Studies have actually shown that a person will usually have an amount of both." He hesitated briefly before adding, "Yasuhara-san does not have ESP, either, but he still had the feeling that something bad was going to happen to Mai the day after we wrapped up that lust spell case at her school. We all felt it, save for Matsuzaki-san and Hara-san. That, more than anything, should reinforce that you don't need to have ESP to have bad feelings."
Chiaki looked down at her hands, taking time to absorb what he'd said. "I'm sorry," she said, softly, looking up at him. "I should stop being silly and tell Mai, shouldn't I?"
"Yes. You owe it to her, especially because she's noticed that something isn't right. Advanced warning is always appreciated in this business, you know."
Giving a ghost of a smile, she stood up and smoothed down her skirt. "I'll go talk to Mai."
Naru held her back. "She's likely in the Records Room. Clean the broken china up first before you do."
Blinking back tears, Chiaki managed to nod her head before practically fleeing back to the kitchen. Naru watched her go with a frown; he hadn't missed the tears that had suddenly sprung to her eyes. Somehow, he didn't think that he'd gotten to the bottom of everything that was bothering her. Had he overlooked something, he wondered, looking over to Lin's office. The young president wondered if he'd been too harsh with her. Really, she was as bad as Mai when it came to keeping secrets.
Idiot scientist, came the sigh. That's not the problem.
Blinking, Naru dug the mirror he and Gene used to communicate out of his pocket and peered into it. What seemed to be his own face stared back. The gentle smile that was almost always present was the only distinguishing feature that it was Eugene and not simply his reflection.
All right, what's wrong with her?
The smile disappeared and an incredulous look replaced it. You idiot scientist! You're so totally clueless I'm almost ashamed.
Are you going to tell me of not? he asked, annoyed.
Figure it out for yourself. It's not that hard. With that, Gene was gone from the mirror, leaving a confused Naru behind.
Frowning, the parapsychologist started to ruminate on what Gene could have possibly meant by that cryptic statement. He didn't see Chiaki exit the kitchen, stare at him for a moment, and then head to the Records Room. Just when Naru thought he understood…
"Chairs not good enough for you Naru-bou, or are you just bored with them?" a familiar voice asked, startling him from his thoughts.
Naru aimed a glare at Bou-san that was so cold, that the monk, John, and Ayako recoiled from it in fear. "Bou-san," he started, his voice menacing. "Has anyone ever told you what lousy timing you have?"
The next morning found Mai milling around outside the exhibition room along with her fellow classmates. She gave a wide yawn that the palm of her hand couldn't quite cover no matter how hard she tried. She hadn't gotten much sleep last night. Bou-san and the others had arrived and typically angered Naru with their shenanigans in a short time. Mai wondered when they would learn. Naru had explained the case in short order, glaring at Bou-san every time he looked the monk's way. When the young man had finished, the musician had jumped up and beat a very hasty retreat, barely pausing to say goodbye to Mai in his haste to escape. After that, Naru had ensconced himself in his office, so Mai had found herself in the Records Room with Chiaki and Yasuhara-san, using the computer to research strange events where Takamoto-san lived and trying to put together a report for Naru. Half an hour into the project, she had begun to doubt that she'd come up with anything. Old newspapers revealed naught. There was nothing off-kilter—except a small burst of crime three years back. There'd been nothing paranormal about it; it had been some kids who were bored. The police had put a stop to it shortly after it started.
So it went until Mai finally gave up. Being unable to really concentrate on the task at hand, she let Yasuhara and Chiaki handle that part and instead started to research into their new client's name—why, she didn't know. It took her a few tries to type it right. English was not her first language—she did better speaking it than she did typing it, thanks largely to Lin and John. And Naru, too, to a lesser extent, she thought, blinking sleep-tears from her eyes and looking around blearily, wondering where Yasuhara-san had gone. She could have sworn that he'd been standing right next her just a few minutes ago. Yawning again, Mai returned to her prior train of thought: why she'd suddenly started to look into Hispanic names.
It had been a challenge to type them; typing in English wasn't her strong suit. In the end, she'd finally gotten it right—or right enough that the internet search engine could understand what she meant. Alejandro was Hispanic; it was the Spanish form of Alexander. Uninterested in the name Alexander, she'd clicked the back button until she was back at the original name. Mai supposed that was when her trance had begun. Without really registering what she was doing, she'd clicked on the link back to the Spanish names and simply browsed, looking at all the names that caught her interest. Ofelia was pretty—Spanish for Ophelia, a character in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Carmen, Spanish for Carmel, but influenced by the Latin word for 'song.' Mai didn't know how many different Spanish names she'd clicked on and read about before Lin came into the room. By the time he'd pulled her from her funk, it was a quarter to eight and Mai realized that she was very hungry.
She yawned again and tried to restrain her eyelids from closing. She really didn't think falling asleep in a museum would be a good idea. Something cold was suddenly pressed against her cheek and Mai started. She blinked and looked over at Yasuhara. He held a can of iced coffee out to her with a wry grin. She accepted it with a smile of thanks and opened the top, taking a liberal swallow.
"Late night?" he asked, with a trace of amusement.
Mai lowered the can of coffee and glowered at him. "You're not funny," she told him, turning up her nose.
Yasuhara chuckled. "Seriously."
"Yasuhara-kun… did you notice anything strange about me last night?" she asked.
"May I decline to answer and thus keep my life?" the bespectacled boy asked, covering his surprise.
Osamu titled his head to the side and watched her for a moment—it seemed she was not in the mood for games or laughing. Sighing, he adjusted his glasses. "You…before Lin-san came in, looked like you were in a trance of some sort. I did try to get your attention several times, but you didn't respond. You were looking at Spanish names and wouldn't stop."
Mai frowned into the can of coffee. "Thank you," she replied, nodding. That merely confirmed her suspicions. She would ask Koujo later, maybe he could give her a bit more information. She looked up just as their teacher glided into the room in a perky yellow sundress that made Mai want to hide her eyes—the color was way too bright and she was tired. Two men in business suits walked with her, one tall and good-looking in a rugged way—he strode with confidence that spoke of haughtiness and grandeur—at bit like Naru and Lin, really; the other was Japanese and held Mai's attention for all of five seconds before her gaze swung back to the man who was obviously American. He couldn't come from anywhere else, she thought. American was written all over him. Sighing, Mai straightened her back and focused on the teacher and saw everyone else do the same. She searched the room for Chiaki and found her with her own class near the back of the room. Catching the silver-haired girl's eye, she flashed her a quick smile and received one in return. She turned back when the teacher started speaking.
"Good morning, class! How is everyone?" she asked. Mai saw the Japanese man turn to the foreigner and whisper something; the man nodded to show that he understood. Around her, there were mumbled answers—Mai didn't bother to answer at all and shot Yasuhara a dirty look for his enthusiastic response. The teacher frowned reprovingly at the class.
"Yasuhara-kun is the only one awake? That's not good. It seems he's the only one who will truly understand the assignment and thus do well on it."
"That's nothing new," one boy muttered.
"Yoshinoto-san, I insist that you speak up!" the teacher demanded, homing in on the lone student who'd spoken.
"Nothing, Professor Hisae," he grumbled.
"Good. Now then class, this is Samuel McLaughlin. He's come all the way from Georgia to share this collection of his with you. Don't think you can just goof off and not take notes," the professor warned. "Your term paper will depend on this exhibit. Before you go in and begin to ignore the adults completely, let me tell you all the details of the term paper. I expect the students of Professor Takekumi to pay attention as well, because your papers, he told me, will be the same. As I indicated on the syllabus for both Takekumi-sensei and myself, for those of you that read it, the next area we will start studying is civil wars—or wars that split peoples living in the same country. We will start with the American Civil War. Term papers—"
"But sensei, isn't that war very late, historically speaking?" a student voiced. Mai looked over to see Ami with her hand raised and a puzzled frown on her face. "There were other civil wars besides that one that came much earlier. England had several, the Baron Wars, War of the Roses, Parliamentarian War, not to mention Japan's own Three Hundred Year Warring Period."
Hisae sighed. Really, she didn't know why such a prodigy child wasn't in some special college like Cornell or Oxford. She turned to the rest of the class and looked over at the other class standing in the back. "How many of you studied the Warring Period in school before college?"
Mai wasn't surprised when the only one that didn't raise his hand was McLaughlin-san himself.
"If I gave you all a test right now, how many of you would pass it?"
Few hands went down.
"How many of you studied the American Civil War?"
Many hands lowered including Mai's; Ami's and Minako's along with two or three other students including Yasuhara remained raised. Mai saw McLaughlin-san's hand raise once his translator had finished talking.
Hisae nodded and turned back to Ami. "That, Mizuno-san, is why we are not going to study the Three Hundred Year Warring Period. The reason we're starting with the American Civil War is because this museum made an exception to allow this collection to be shown. Now, as I was saying, term papers will be written in English. No groaning! What you'll do," she said, staunchly ignoring the moans and complaints, "is pick one of the objects from the exhibition and research it. This may be one of the weapons, a piece of clothing, a piece of cookware used back then, medical equipment, so on. Notate on a pamphlet what each of you will research and hand it in next time we meet. I expect your papers to be five to eight pages in length with a bibliography. You may use whatever formatting you're familiar with for documentation. I expect to also see an interview with McLaughlin-san somehow included within your papers. That said, happy viewing. Taniyama, Yasuhara-kun, I need to speak with the two of you."
Yasuhara frowned and waited next to Mai while the rest of the students, filtered bit by bit into the display room, casting curious glances back at the two who the teacher held behind. "Don't worry," Mai said suddenly. "It's nothing bad."
"It's because we're going out of town, later today, right?" he asked, as the professor approached along with Samuel McLaughlin and his translator.
"Speaking of which, are we going to the office after this?"
Mai shook her head. "Naru and Lin are going to meet us here," she told him. "Alejandro suggested to Lin that they see the exhibit, too." Here the college student shrugged. "I don't know how Lin convinced Naru to come, but he did."
"Hmm… how indeed?" he muttered, turning and smiling at their professor. "What can we do for you, Professor Hisae?" he asked brightly.
Mai resisted the urge to roll her eyes. That's Yasuhara-san for you, she thought.
"I got your emails last night. I'm sorry I didn't respond. Do you have any idea how long you'll be away?" she asked.
Yasuhara aimed a rueful smile at their professor. "I'm afraid not… unless… Shibuya-san gave you some indication, Taniyama-san?"
The brunette shook her head. "Not to me, he didn't," she said regretfully. Nor would he. Until Naru had a slight clue to what he and his team were dealing with, time wasn't something he gave much thought to.
"I see," the professor murmured, a thoughtful frown on her face.
"But that won't stop us from setting up interview times," Yasuhara said quickly. "I'm sure Shibuya-san will allow us to return to Ueno for class work—don't you think, Taniyama-san?"
"Of course he will." Mai knew there were ways to persuade Naru. Madoka, for instance. "If not, McLaughlin-san might be able to meet us wherever or half-way."
"That's a thought," Yasuhara replied, nodding.
"Those are good solutions, don't you agree, Miss Satori?" McLaughlin asked, turning to their professor.
The frown disappeared. "Yes," she said slowly, a blush staining her cheeks. "Yes, they are."
"Then let's set up interview times right now," Samuel McLaughlin said, looking at Mai and Yasuhara. "That way you two don't get the crummiest times, like eight in the morning," he said, withdrawing a planner and winking at Mai.
Mai frowned. Is he…
"What an excellent idea!" Hisae crowed, beaming at the collection owner. This time, Mai did roll her eyes. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw McLaughlin-san's translator do the same. Really, the teacher was being too obvious. "I'll leave you two to set up times. See you both in the display room."
"Unless of course, you'd like the eight o'clock time? You're probably adorable at that time," Samuel McLaughlin said, watching Mai with an amused expression.
He is, she thought, disgusted. Not interested. How inappropriate and rude! Mai looked over at the translator inquiringly. "I didn't follow that at all," she said regretfully.
"Would you like me to tell him you're not amused?" the man inquired, seeing right through her act.
Mai shook her head ruefully and gave him a grateful smile.
"Ah." Turning to his client, the man translated that Mai hadn't understood what he'd said. McLaughlin looked a bit disappointed, but forced a smile back onto his face and rattled off days and times that she could take.
Yasuhara coughed to cover up his chuckle. "Playing dumb?" he whispered.
"Whatever works," she told him.
"True. What time did you take?" Yasuhara inquired.
"Eleven-thirty, this Thursday," Mai said sourly. "It seems like eleven has already been reserved."
By whom? Yasuhara wondered. We just found out about this project; he hasn't talked to any of the other students. The only person who could have that time was Professor Hisae…or someone from the museum staff, maybe. "I'll take noon, if I may."
McLaughlin conversed swiftly with his translator for a moment before shaking his head regretfully. "I usually take lunch at twelve. How about one? No?" he asked, when Yasuhara shook his head emphatically.
Trying to keep me from Taniyama-san? "Who took eleven? Maybe they wouldn't mind allowing me to have their spot."
Samuel McLaughlin smiled and tapped his pen against the paper. "How's ten-thirty?" he asked, finally.
I knew it! "That'll work just fine. Lets go, Taniyama-san. Kasai-san is waiting for us."
"You're right," she said. "I can see her just inside the door," Mai said, allowing her friend and associate to escort her into the display room. "I want to see if they have dancing slippers," she said suddenly.
"Dancing slippers?" Yasuhara asked, pausing momentarily and regarding his co-worker with surprise.
"I saw them in a dream last night," she explained. "They were black and looked like slip-ons and they had the most darling purple, bell-shaped flowers embroidered on them."
"They sound cute," her companion said, as they disappeared into the exhibition room.
Samuel McLaughlin looked at his translator. "Did you happen to catch what she just said?" he inquired.
"She wanted to know if your display had dancing slippers. She said she saw a pair in her dream last night."
"Really? Did she describe them?"
"She did. She said they were black slip-ons and had purple, bell-shaped flowers embroidered on them."
"How interesting," he said, idly scanning his planner. Spooky, actually, McLaughlin thought, shutting his planner with a snap. That girl had described her dancing shoes perfectly. Maybe… just maybe… "Annabelle," he murmured, with a thoughtful smile on his face. "I think we've found a winner."
Author's Notes: And the voters asked for a sequel! I would like to welcome all of you to Dancing Queen, the sequel to Shades of Lust! This could be a stand-alone, but it will have references to Shades of Lust, so I'm not going to particularly count it as a stand-alone story. So, where in relations to Shades of Lust does this story take place? Shades of Lust took place between volumes seven and eight of the manga, so this story will probably be a year later, maybe a year and a few months, and will take place after… let's say volume eleven—this means it takes place after the anime because the Yoshimi case was where the anime ended (The Cursed House arc). They've already found Eugene's body; Naru and Lin have gone back to England for his funeral and returned to Japan to continue working. At this point in the storyline of Ghost Hunt, if I remember correctly, SPR has three new workers: Yasuhara Osamu—and by this time, he and Mai are both investigators; Kasai Chiaki and Takahashi Yuko. You all met those two in volume three of the manga; for those who only know the anime, that would be the After School Curse arc. This will deviate in terms of Mai's power and its development. I'll say no more about that, however.
Now…about pairings—ah everyone's favorite topic. I'm going with the triangle I started in Shades of Lust, just an FYI. However, I would also like to remind each and every one of you that Ghost Hunt itself is not a romantically inclined story. Its main genre is horror and thriller— not romance. That's not to say there won't be any romance, but…I know many of you are hoping for your pairing of choice—please don't be disappointed if they don't happen, and please don't drop me hints about which pairing y'all happen to ship, because I'm telling you here and now: they will be ignored. I will not leave author's notes about them like I did with Shades of Lust. Have I driven it home, I wonder?
I'll see you all in chapter two!