Epilogue, part two: Aversion Theory
AN: Merry/Happy Christmas to everyone who celebrates this holiday of spreading joy.
To others outside of this celebration, Happy Holidays and a rapidly approaching New Year.
On the list of things, Taniyama Mai, had the misfortune of tripping over, she would have to add: Labrador Retreiver, black. Somehow, Mai had gotten distracted enough (daydreaming was more like it) to miss the giant dog wagging its tail at her in the middle of the sidewalk—and the leash attached to its owner. The packages in Mai's hand hit the ground as she toppled over the animal and Mai heard the distinct sound of the eggs crunching as the carton struck the pavement.
Well, there went her ingredients for the tamagoyaki she had planned to make for Bou-san, and he had even asked especially for her to cook it.
Luckily, Mai had been wearing gloves and her stockings had taken the brunt of the fall to her knees. The dog, uncaring that he had just been trampled over, licked the tops of Mai's brown boots while she righted herself.
Mai scratched her head and rearranged some of the cans in her fallen bag. Egg yolk dripped onto her fingers.
"I'm sorry about that. I wasn't even watching where I was going," she offered, apologetic.
"Apparently not." The plump dog owner stuck his thumb between his first two fingers in an offensive gesture Mai had never been given, before the man walked away retreating down the street with his dog in tow.
Shocked, and tongue-tied, it took Mai a good, flustered half-minute before she yelled after him. "You raging—ugh, jerk! I hope your dog runs away from you to find a better owner!"
Scooping up the rest of her fallen food, Mai headed back to her apartment with a fierce swagger in her step, daring anyone else to say anything remotely derisive.
She fumbled with her keys, and as usual, had to wiggle them just right in order to open the lock. Dropping the bag on the counter, Mai erased the messages racking up in her voicemail. The entire office wouldn't stop calling her. Ayako was worried, John had shared his condolences and wondered if she cared to talk about it, Masako gave her a sneering message about how there would be less competition for Naru and that she was thankful for that (it was Masako's subtle way of saying that Mai would be missed), and only Bou-san hadn't taken no for an answer. He'd called a few times, been ignored like the rest and had finally showed up on her doorstep and then at her school when she'd refused to answer the door. She'd finally lost the battle and agreed to have lunch with him Saturday, but now she had to call him to ask him to pick something up as she'd dropped the main ingredients and didn't feel like cooking after the run-in with the dog owner.
She pulled a card out of the bag, partially covered on the front with egg yolk. She cleaned the top off, and shrugged at the shoddy work. It would have to do. Lin wouldn't care if there was raw egg on his card or not. Even though Lin wasn't calling to pester her like the rest of S.P.R., she felt bad that she hadn't even got to say goodbye. The others would be getting the same letters, save for Naru. Naru could kiss her ass (not that she would ever say something like that aloud) for all she cared at the moment. Soon after leaving the office, her sorrow and self-pity had evolved into anger. That was how she dealt with things and she accepted that maybe it was a bit of an unhealthy habit, but it helped her deal in the now… and she was okay with that.
Mai dialed out, catching Bou on the third ring. "Hey, Bou-san. I had a bit of an accident with your tamagoyaki."
"An accident?" he drawled slowly, stretching the word out.
"Yes, an accident," she snapped. "Can you grab some onigiri and maybe some shrimp kimizu from the corner store by my house before you come over?"
He agreed as usual, though reluctantly and told her he would be over in a half-hour.
Mai took the time to prepare herself for the maelstrom that was soon to follow, but first she had to batter down the hatches on her heart.
Mai had expected to cry. She felt like that's all she had done lately, but when Takigawa had come over to hear the whole story about what had happened over the last few weeks, she found she was stoutly unfeeling when it came to Naru.
Mai twisted the chord of her ancient home phone around her finger as she anxiously waited to be transferred to the person Madoka had given her the number of. Working in the field actively with ghosts, or not, Mai didn't want to be unprepared anymore. It was about time to rein in her powers, with or without S.P.R.
A kind, elderly voice came over the line and Mai was thankful. She wanted the furthest thing possible from a young, arrogant, narrow-minded boss.
"You must be Taniyama-san, the post-cognitive Mori-san has told me so much about."
"Ah, yes, that is me." She didn't add her usual: 'please call me, Mai.' She wanted to keep this engagement entirely professional and distant. No more people to get attached to, only to have to leave them.
"I'm Ebisu Minato. Mori-san said that you were interested in training your psychic abilities. She mentioned post-cognitive, but said that you would address the rest when you called. Pray tell, what other abilities do you have that you have a need for controlling?"
Mai hesitated, then started ticking off fingers. "I'm post-cognitive, sometimes pre-cognitive when it comes to guessing other's thoughts. I have a ghost guide who helps in the visions. I can astral walk, and lately, I'm beginning to phase through walls," she said quickly.
Silence buzzed on the other end of the line. "That's quite a diversity in techniques. And you have gone untrained in all of these for how long, Taniyama-san?"
"Three, going on four years," Mai told him, abashed.
He made a gentle tisking sound, deflating Mai's defensiveness. "Ah-ah, Taniyama-san, I am glad you have sought me out. This is far too long to risk such abilities being untrained. I admit, though, I have never come across one person with so many talents. I may need to call in others to help with your training if you are willing."
Mai tried to temper the enthusiasm in her voice. "More than willing."
"Then I would be more than happy to take you on as an assistant. You seem quite the catch, Taniyama-san." He paused, humming. "Though, I'm wondering how some of the larger fish like Britain's Society for Psychic Research haven't picked you up yet. Especially when it is Madoka Mori is calling in the favor, eh?"
Mai bristled at the mention of S.P.R.'s parent company. Naru's parent's company. The elderly man sounded curious, but wanted Mai to share the details as if he wasn't really asking for them. Tactful, she noted.
"I'm sure there are many good stories to be told potentially, but I only have one request, Ebisu-san."
"And what is that?"
"I prefer the term protégée, not assistant if you wouldn't mind."
Ebisu chortled. Mai thought it sounded like a good laugh. "I believe that can be arranaged."
Mai sighed, happy that the hard part was over.
"Now, as for transportation. As my office is over three hours away…"
Mai drained the last of the miso soup is one hearty gulp that Takigawa would have been proud of and Ayako would have scolded her for. At times like this, when she sat in her apartment, alone and separated, she thought of them more and more. What were they doing? Were they safe? When did John's visa expire? And how was Takigawa's band doing? Had Ayako given up on her latest boyfriend?
And why had Yasuhara sent her a pair of lacewing curtains? Literally, curtains with cartoon aphids painted all over it being chased by ladybugs. It was cute although very strange, but Mai appreciated the gift all the same, opting to hang them in her bedroom, so guests wouldn't have to see them.
Did Lin miss her tedious filing system? Did he even understand how to use? She'd spent days developing a system that kept old cases filed alphabetically in the cabinets behind her desk and the new, more relevant cases filed numerically in the small, black cabinets in front of Naru's office. She was sorely tempted to check in on them, just to make sure they hadn't screwed anything up.
Mai refused to ask the question that was constantly running through her mind, the one query that would end all her outward anxiety, all the pressure she felt budding in her life.
Did Naru miss her?
Simple, yet heartrending.
Trying to distract herself, she focused on her waning appetite. Maybe she wanted apricot, but vaguely she thought she wanted peanut butter too. Would the two taste good together?
A loud rapping noise echoed through her house, sending her flying off her kitchen stool and onto the floor with a silent yell. Heart beating rapidly, she waited as the knocking repeated twice. Mai didn't move. She'd already sent everyone a kind of farewell card. They had her number, but not many of them knew where she lived. Takigawa, of course, but no one else, really… and if it was Ayako, Mai really didn't want to speak to the miko. She had left her some really nasty voicemails a few days ago that Mai hadn't quite forgiven her for yet.
"Open up, Mai." On the floor, Mai stiffened while her neck started to ache because she was rigid with tension. Even muffled through the door, she would recognize that self-assured, condescending voice.
It's the last thing she'd expected—oddly, it's what she'd fantasized about a couple times, but now that it was happening, she was panicking. She crawled behind the couch as if putting up one more barrier between herself and her narcissistic boss. It wasn't as if he could see through walls, but Mai wasn't taking any chances.
"I know you're there. Unlock the door, Mai, or I will." Scrambling, Mai stumbled to the door, her feet stomping heavily along the floor. She completely forgot that her knee still hadn't quite healed, but now she really didn't care about it as long as she made it to the door before he did something stupid.
Worried that she wouldn't make it in time, she called out, "Naru! Don't! I'm here! I'll unlock the door." Worry was etched clearly on her face as she whipped the door open. "Don't you dare use your PK, you idiot!" She growled, her tone completely the opposite of her panicked one before.
Naru stood in his calf-length black coat and a black and white checkered scarf hanging around his turtleneck shirt. Even with his monochrome sense of style, the boy was fashionable. And beautiful. It irked Mai.
Mai watched as Naru took in her own appearance, eying her up and down, in one long, assessing look. She glanced down at her completely improper attire. Bare feet, tiny white pajama shorts and a shiny red camisole showed under her fuzzy brown teddy bear robe. Embarrassed, she quickly tied the mid-thigh length robe shut with a staunch knot.
Naru idly thought that he found her bare feet the most charming.
Ignoring her state of ill-attire, Naru returned to the conversation, not easily distracted. "I wasn't going to," her ex-boss deadpanned. "You think I would potentially put myself in the hospital just to talk to you? Have you ever heard of idle threats, Mai?"
At his familiar sarcastic tone, Mai tried to shut the door on him. Unfortunately, Naru caught the door before it closed completely, slipping a hand between the door jamb, forcing her to either let go or slam his hand closed in the door.
Mai considered her options.
"Ow, Mai, I'm going to need that hand," he said as she continued to try to shut the door.
She wasn't pressing hard, but she couldn't deny the little vindictive pleasure she felt at that. Finally, she relented, letting him push the door open.
He waited in the doorway, rubbing the back of his hand. "You want me to put myself in the hospital—just to open your door?" he clarified with vague disbelief.
"No," Mai scowled at how bad it sounded, though morbidly romantic.
"I would have just come back," he said simply.
"Oh," she said dumbly.
He rolled his eyes. "May I come in?"
Mai regarded him with cautious eyes before she walked into her apartment, an open invitation for him to follow. He stepped into her apartment, pausing for a moment to take it all in. It was all wooden floors and earthy tones, brown, beige, neutral—perfect for matching the rugs she'd bought and the dark brown couch against the wall. He looked down the hallway—eying the door to her bedroom and the closed door down the hallway which he assumed was the bathroom.
—And were those green curtains in her bedroom? If so, he took back the compliments he'd been thinking about her simple approach to her interior design. Toxic green didn't go with anything.
Mai rounded on him, arms crossed. "If it's to get your last insults in, you can march yourself straight back out that door." She pointed for added effect.
Naru shook his head and tipped his head questioningly to the couch.
"Go for it," she gave him permission.
Mai fought the urge to offer him tea. Right now, he wasn't so much an invited guest than an unwanted intruder.
Mai picked up her own lukewarm tea and sipped at it. Naru sat on her couch while she took the futon on the floor.
"You've been avoiding me," he pointed out.
"That typically happens when someone quits a job," she hissed condescendingly.
He shook his head. "No, before that. You've been avoiding me ever since I came back from London," he countered.
"Imagine that," she returned caustically. "Avoiding the person who had vehemently denied the existence of your feelings—and then proceeded to tell you that you love someone else—their dead brother, in fact. I have no idea why I'm not tripping over myself trying to talk to you," she said with menace.
Naru pressed his fingers against his temples wishing for more patience. While he still technically believed he had been right, maybe it wasn't exactly the right way to go about it...
Inside him, he felt the twist of panic start to take hold. If he didn't handle this correctly, he would lose Mai forever. And somehow, this wasn't going the way he planned. Perhaps, it was time he cut to the chase.
Mai took another sip of the tepid liquid.
"Come to London with me," Naru said without pretense.
Mai sputtered into her tea. "W-what? I-that's insane. I already have other prior engagements," she replied, shaking her head in disbelief. She tried to speak twice again, but her mouth couldn't seem to match up with her brain.
"Cancel them," he said with straight-faced sincerity.
"I can't. Naru, I can't put off this training anymore. Who knows what will happen if I ignore it for much longer?"
Naru considered it. "It's true. You astral walk, you have visions—no psychometry yet though. You can transfer physical objects across a distance—amazing, if a little unheard of, you phased your hand through the cabinet a month ago," he slid her a vaguely annoyed look and shook his head. "How you thought I didn't notice that is beyond me. You walked across a holy barrier, a feat in itself, as it's specifically designed to keep any kind of spirit from passing through it. Though that either speaks for Matsuzaki's lack of skill or—" He slid an accessing glance over Mai.
A telltale flush heated her neck when she knew where he was going with this. His brother had not too long ago questioned her virtue as well.
"Naru!" she yelled in warning. He closed his mouth and let it drop. She huffed out a breath in annoyance and relief.
"You need training. At the branch in London, we have an entire facility dedicated to research like this. We can bring in experts from all over, if you'd like. Come with me," he repeated.
Mai gaped at him, mouth hanging open unattractively. "Why?"
Naru raised a quizzical eyebrow. "Isn't that what you wanted? To be where I am. Well, that's where I'm going."
"Not why are you going—why do you want me to come?" Her tone had shifted to a sort of pleading sound.
Naru looked blankly at her, unsure of the best answer and how she would respond to any other one. Mai sighed, knowing it was better to set down her cup of tea before she decided to throw it across the room.
"This won't work," she said softly, as if she was the one to console him after everything they'd been through.
He tried another route. "My father wants to meet you."
She shook her head. "Not good enough." Naru narrowed his eyes, thinking hard about what to say.
"I want you to come with me."
Mai's heart felt like it was going to stop. Shakily, she asked, "Do you really mean it—because if you don't, as my friend…" she paused to lost train of thought and just tried to remember how to breathe. "As my friend, at the very least, you…you shouldn't…" Mai couldn't finish, suddenly choked up with all the emotions she hadn't been able to get out before when Takigawa had been here. Only Naru could do this to her—reduce her to a pile of tears by giving her what she had wanted.
"Don't cry, idiot," Naru scolded gently. Naru hesitated mulling something over before he rose from the couch and dropped onto his knees at her side. He wasn't sure he was doing the right thing, encroaching on her space, but he touched a hand against her arm in remorse. Mai tried to scoot away but was caught between Naru and the wall.
"Don't cry," he repeated, running a nervous hand through his hair. It spoke volumes for his own nerves.
Unable to stop it, Mai flung herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck, not caring that for the moment, it felt extremely out of place and oh my god, awkward. Naru was larger than she had thought. The black of his outfits thinned him out too much.
"Hug me back," she commanded, when he stared at her blankly. "This is called 'having a moment.' Don't ruin it by being awkward," she said as she rubbed the tears from her red eyes, sniffing heavily.
Hesitantly, Mai felt Naru slowly wrap his arms around her in return though she felt as though he was holding her like she was fragile. It was probably due to the fact that he was completely unaware of how to do anything like this. She gripped him tighter and wiped at her tears again.
She would try to teach him how it all worked. First, as friends, and then maybe...
Naru was always a quick learner.
Pulling her tighter, and earning himself a mortified squeak as she hadn't expected it, he said, "You're such a moron."
"Pot. Kettle," she murmured into his shoulder.
"You'll probably end up hating me." He pulled back from her, sitting on his haunches with a serious expression on his face.
"Possibly—most likely," she admitted.
"I don't know how to be nice."
"You'll learn quickly," she tried not to growl.
"You'll get sick of me after all the time we spend together. When you're being trained, I'll be going over that data, studying it. I'm going to know a sickening lot about you."
Mai's look turned fierce. "You are not researching me. I won't be tethered up like some lab rat."
"Mai..." Naru trailed off, exasperated. "I'm a researcher."
He hesitated. "We'll see."
"Funny, can you research me in Japan from London? I doubt your instruments will be that sensitive," she said crossing her arms.
Naru chuckled. "I'm sure by the time we're in London, I'll find something to blackmail you by." He leaned forward suggestively. Mai's cheeks flared pink and she retreated into the wall. He smirked victoriously.
"You don't blackmail, you bully."
"It's what you like about me."
"Right now, I really don't like you at all."
Naru quirked his head at her. Mai stiffened. He leaned forward, casually bracing an arm against the wall beside her head. Her shoulders hunched and she blinked owlishly at him beneath long lashes. Naru pursed his lips and wondered if she knew how cute she looked.
Leaning dangerously close, Naru said, "I think I could make you like me right now if I wanted." Mai's eyes drooped, watching his lips move mesmerizingly. She nodded her head tentatively and took a deep breath.
Sedately, she pressed a finger into his chest. "See—you bully." Naru actually did smile and it stole the air from Mai's lungs. It didn't really matter if Naru didn't love her. She doubted he would ever love her to the extent at which she loved him, but for once, Mai could tell that he was at least taken with her.
He didn't smile for others. He didn't tease anyone else. And no one ever got under his skin quite like Mai did. But she could tell that in that moment, she clearly meant something important to him, but she didn't know exactly what she was to him only because he didn't know right then. She had no doubt that he would tell her when he figured it out though. And until, there was plenty of time to discover what made him uncomfortable, what made him squirm and most of all, what took his breath away because Mai figured he was long overdue for some payback.
Once in London, Mai would have to make some quick friends. Namely, Madoka who had the two dark and silent S.P.R. researchers wrapped around her finger and Mai wanted to learn her ways.
Rising up and balancing on her knees, Mai edged closer to Naru until she was nose to nose with him. Before he could recoil, she planted a quick kiss at the corner of his lips, missing on purpose. She stood up quickly and Naru reached for her with an odd expression on his face.
"Mai!" Naru said sharply.
He was embarrassed. Mai laughed full-throatedly and danced out of his reach as his arm darted out to catch hers. She grinned like the Cheshire cat, eyes gleaming devilishly.
"I win for tonight," she said in a sing-song voice, bouncing and hopping to an unknown beat while she made her way to the kitchen. And Naru let her have her minor victory because he knew there would always be time to get even...or he could get even now because as Mai often said: patience wasn't in the Davis bloodline.
He followed her into the kitchen.
"What are you doing?"
"—knock that off—"
"Hey! That's my favorite robe!"
"—Naru!—oh, hey wait—mmph—"
And perhaps, many, many more chances for similar revenge.
After all, there would be no more avoiding him.
.....and turnabout was always fair play.
AN: Thank you so much to everyone that took the time to read this behemoth (46,000+), written in eight days (and the one-shot in tAoH which was also 10,000+ words). To me, that's very much a monstrosity (bc of the short period of time I had written it in), but one I've enjoyed immensely. Next, I'll be working on The Absurdity of Honesty. I have a couple Ghost Hunt one-shots in mind that I want to drill out, but I won't be able to post until sometime after January 12th. I'm heading to London, people. Have a great New Year!