~ Seasons ~

Part 1: Fall / Spring


Mai has a boy for all seasons.


Paperwork and tea didn't mix well. Maybe separately, but absolutely never in tandem.

Drinking tea: refreshing.

Reading paperwork: satisfying.

Drinking tea while reading paperwork: disaster.

Especially on Monday mornings, normally the first day of the workweek for the working man, though it was the second day for Naru.

If Naru hadn't been clumsy, a rarity in itself, he might missed it: the first hint of Mai's disloyalty.

The tea-tinted, sopping wet interviewee files slopped water over his desk when he picked them up, making a bigger mess of his desk calendar. Looking over his own clothes, he brushed a hand over the few errant tea droplets coating his button-up shirt. Another reason he favored black attire. Other than the obvious depressing nature for which he wore the color, it had the benefit of not showing any kind of stains as well.

Rounding the desk, Naru couldn't hear any noise coming from the outer reception area which either meant Mai had snuck out again, or she was sleeping on the job.

Mai was never quiet. Mai was the antithesis of quiet.

When he was almost to the door, he heard the first echoes of her voice. Voice pitched low, she seemed to be talking to herself in the outer room, which under the laws of fair blackmail made Naru hesitate at the edge of the door. He might uncover something worthwhile to gain more leverage against his firecracker assistant.

Waiting and calculating, Naru noticed her voice was almost a murmur. He pressed closer to the door, glad that no one could catch him…spying. For such childish behavior, he would never hear the end of it. Lin might raise an eyebrow and leave it at that, but the rest of the Irregulars he had on retainer with S.P.R. would never let him live it down. Except John, and he was the worst of them all. John would give him the closed-eye disappointed headshake in the same vein of parental disapproval. Nothing like years of clerical guilt to give you time to practice that look until you had it down perfect. The silent treatment, while Naru appreciated it, was by far the worst.

"—really, don't come down here. You don't even know the address…" she mumbled. Naru could barely make out what she was saying, but he recognized the scolding tone.

A pause. "It is not in the address book," she snapped, but then followed the reprimand in an absurdly gentle juxtaposition of her usual fervor.

The simple pause and unheard response to Mai's monologue explained it. Mai wasn't talking to herself, she was talking to someone over the phone. "No! I can walk by myself and I'll meet you by the middle school—not Shoto! Yoyogi, and then we can head over to Sangubashi." Silence, then, "Yes, yes—fine!"

She snorted rather indelicately—a cross between a bull preparing to charge and an annoyed, huffy teenage girl. An apt description for Mai it may be, but Naru was wise enough to never share those thoughts with her.

Naru knew that Mai occasionally ducked out of work early to go out with Takigawa or Yasuhara, but she hadn't hid that for months. In the beginning, she had been worried about being caught, but after never being reprimanded for it, Mai hadn't bothered to be sneaky about it since.

He briefly considered picking up his phone to hack her line to hear the whole conversation, but the idea was cut short when he heard Mai hang up. It had sounded like her usual conversations with one of the S.P.R. Irregulars, but somehow, this time was different, and when he ran the conversation over again in his head, he caught it. Mai had told the person not to come here, which in and of itself wasn't unusual, but the person hadn't known where S.P.R. was…and that was the suspicious part.

Thinking back, Naru knew very little of the girl's friends outside of S.P.R. When she'd first started, he'd found out about her homelife from the principal, but not much else other than the sparse details he overheard when she spoke with her coworkers. Admittedly, he knew very little about Mai. Probably only a little more than she knew about him. And that wasn't much considering how she still thought his name was Shibuya Kazuya.

There were a million possibilities, several of which Naru dismissed immediately. She could be meeting another one of her empty-headed friends, no names came to mind immediately though. And then a more devastating thought came to mind….but was Mai really capable of such a idiotic plot?

Was Mai taking on clients on the side? Clients he had rejected and she wanted to help? It was stupid. Nowhere near thought through especially if she was taking calls at the office.

It was moronic. Perfectly Mai.

Once before, he'd caught Mai slipping turned-away clients papers with other numbers on it. The numbers of other psychic offices not dedicated to research like Naru's company, but ones that specialized in only blind exorcisms, not finding out where and why it was there.

Whatever she was up to, it served the girl right that she'd have to go over his sopping, muddied notes and re-transcribe them again. It was divine punishment on the girl for making personal phone calls during work hours.

Opening the door, he noticed the wide eyes and bewildered stare on her face followed by relief at not being caught. She followed him with wary eyes while he sauntered closer and dropped the soaked files onto her desk with a wet squelch. She grimaced at her desk with a twist of her lips and then narrowed her eyes at him as she patted the notes down with paper towels she had nearby from cleaning.

Mai moved her box of strawberry pocky away from the spreading mess of water and put one of the stick candies in her mouth.

Mai smiled knowingly with the stick of pocky hanging from the side of her mouth. "Did I miss the earthquake?"

He ignored her. "Pocky?" he asked quizzically. He had never known the teen to have a hankering for sweets.

Dabbing gently at the paper, she smiled wryly up at him, still miffed at her wet desk. "I like pocky."

"Pocky is for children."

Mai growled at Naru. "Shut up. Pocky is just fine."

"Transcribe those for me."

Her mouth dropped open, hackles raised. "You don't have the copies?" she growled.

"Those were the originals. We don't have any copies made yet, lazy assistant. I spilled my tea when I was calling for said lazy assistant. She seemed to have been too preoccupied to come and assist the man who signs her paycheck. Doing who knows what, pray tell?"

"I was—in the kitchen—filing I mean."

"Filing in the kitchen? I take it the plates and bowls are all out of order and in need of reorganzing, hm?"

"I was filing, went in the kitchen to get something to drink when the phone rang! Jeez, Naru."

Pretending that the phone call bit caught his attention more than usual, he said, "What was the phone call about?"

Mai's expressive face failed her once again. Flushing and backtracking as fast as she could in her head, she blurted out, "Prank call again! Kids—not really a case."

Mai, at all of 18 years of age, was incredibly easy to fluster. Also a terrible liar.

Naru raised a curious brow at her, but let it drop. "I need a new desk calendar for the month of August."

Mai munched on the strawberry pocky thoughtfully and tapped the desk with her pen. "We don't have any of those left."

Naru paused and glanced meaningfully down at her desk. Mai gave him a stumped look before she followed his gaze and slapped her hands down protectively on her desk like it was the last scraps of food around and she was a starving woman.

"No way," she deadpanned. "You can't have mine."

Smirking, Naru retreated to his office. She would notice soon enough. "Order one for me."

And being the generous person that he was, Naru tossed over his shoulder, "Go ahead and order one for yourself as well."

Mai's mouth dropped open, puzzled. Naru's door clicked shut behind him and he heard her indignant screech when she realized the soaking file he'd given her had soaked through her calendar as well.

For the rest of the afternoon, Naru waited carefully until he heard Mai start to pack her things. Being the genius that he was, he timed it perfectly down to when she was heading out the door. He emerged from his office, and slipped his jacket on while she watched him move around the room like a deer caught by a predator. When he finally met her gaze, he noticed she was stock still and caught with her hand on the door handle.

"And where are you heading?"

Unused to lying convincingly, the girl stumbled over her answer. "Um, the—the Meiji Shrine. Haven't been for awhile." Picking lint off of his jacket, Naru nodded and pulled the door from her hand before ushering her out.

Naru inwardly delighted at the anxiety so evident on Mai's face as he followed her down the street without a word. Setting the trap was half the fun.

The autumn was a little brisker than normal which made the girl pull tighter at the hem of her coat. The crowds on the streets parted like water as the two walked down the sidewalk, mostly due to Naru walking directly at anyone and refusing to move out of their way. They made it three blocks before Mai burst.

"Naru, where are you going?"

Naru thought over the options and watched the puzzled and concerned emotions flow easily over her face. Her brows were knit and she was decidedly worried about something. He'd play the game a little longer and see what it brought him.

He opted for silence.

Mai, still a year or so shy to be so brazen, didn't hit him, but pleaded again. Looking down, uncomfortable under his gaze, she squeaked, "Naru!"

"To the shrine."

Mai stopped walking briefly, shocked. Naru never willingly went anywhere with her. Now was quite possibly the worst timing ever for her. She bit her lip in evident frustration and looked vacant like a bout of disorientation had hit her. Recouping, she jogged to catch his strident walk. Three steps to his two.

Cautiously, she allowed him along now, but he could practically see the wheels spinning in her head as she turned the ideas over and over again, grasping at what Naru was up to.

"I'm going to the Shrine to pray," she offered tentatively. He fixed her with a look as if her very sins were written across her skin. Mai waved her hands like she could push his gaze away. "I haven't been for awhile," she finished quickly.

She continued when he didn't respond, "Are you going somewhere nearby?"

"The shrine."

"Why? You're Catholic."

"You're not Shintoist," he pointed out without breaking stride.

Mai was taken aback for a moment, but recovered. "My great-grandfather was!"

Letting her have the last of that conversation, Naru wondered at how she knew something like his religious affiliation, or technically his prior one. He was a scientific man, after all, and religion and science agreed on very little. He was fairly sure he had never mentioned it, so he asked.

Mai smiled brightly, childish and exultant all at once—like a small sun blazing. "You always have to ask Bou-san or me about Buddhism, but you rarely ask about Christian or Catholic beliefs," she surmised. "It was just a guess." She made a vacant shrug, and pulled at the edge of her scarf as if it was wound too tight around her neck. Her face was flushed, either from the wind or something else, Naru couldn't tell which. She was probably embarrassed to have been caught thinking about his personal life.

"I'm curious about the shrine," he supplied, taking the safe route. That way he had an excuse to follow her, but then realizing his mistake—that he could have, and normally would have, gone without her to see a shrine, he tried to recover, "there were a couple stories in the newspaper about some mysterious happenings in the park. I guessed it had something to do with the shrine. Maybe you'll notice something." Three sentences that sounded distinctly reminiscent of babbling. He silently admonished himself for telling this girl more than was strictly necessary. He never felt inclined to explain his actions, yet somehow this girl had prompted a litany of thoughts to be voiced.

Glancing down at the girl, he noticed the partial smile hidden by windblown locks of hair. Happy, but embarrassed. Very young.

Mai's nervousness waned minutely until they made it to the shrine. She stood in front of the shrine, silent and stern for a space of several minutes, exuding a false calm. Only her eyebrows furrowed betraying the rest of her calm façade. She was praying awfully hard for something, Naru presumed. Mai, occasionally, would break her concentration to see if Naru had disappeared, but he resolutely stayed within watchful distance of her, letting her know she wasn't going to escape so easily.

Sighing heavily, the girl gave in, knowing she wasn't going to be able to ditch him unless she ran for it, and then he would think she had something to be worried for—which she absolutely did not want him to know. She paced over to him and he waited expectantly, eyes fixed on the shrine over her head.

"What?" she snapped, when he eyed her curiously. "I didn't feel anything. Nothing supernatural anyway."

"You didn't clap twice," he noted with a hint of amusement.

Mai's face pinched in thought and then lit up. Looking skyward with a scowl of aggravation as if asking for patience, or help or both. She turned back to the shrine. "Oh—Shinto, right," she said lamely. She bowed, clapped twice and finished the prayer.

Righting herself, she dug her hands into her jacket and turned back to him. "…so where are you going now?"

Naru nodded his head to the south and started down the stairs, waiting at the bottom for her to follow. She walked stiltedly down each step, and then stopped opposite him, a head shorter, but twice as feisty. The walk was casual but mostly silent. Looking down at her, Naru wondered at her rigid posture and tight-lipped responses along the way. What could she possibly be hiding?

It was getting on five o'clock. Surely, the client she was meeting behind his back wanted to meet sooner rather than later.

Glancing to the side, she timidly offered, "Well, I'm heading this way—"

She abruptly stopped when Naru gripped her elbow with his hand and promptly dragged her across the park's path leading south. "—Naru—" she gasped sharply.

Scrambling to right herself at his brisk pace, she yanked at her arm uselessly and grumpily continued along with him. "You spied on me," she accused. "You heard the phone call. Why didn't you say anything? It would have saved us time and a side trip to the shrine. Now, I'm late and annoyed."

Naru didn't say anything. He was measuring just how mad he would be at her when they met the client and just which choice words he would cut them apart with. Mai needed a good lashing. Other bosses would have fired her. He fought the instinctive urge to glance down at her, knowing that it might only strengthen his resolve to go through with it. Whereas others would have weakened at the sight of her cute countenance, Naru would have met the idea with an overwhelming need to rid himself of her, seeing it as a weakness.

Her walk was clipped, each step a rigid cadence against the ground. She was obviously upset, but less so at being caught and more at having wasted all that time when he already knew. Silence reigned between them as they awkwardly made their way south. When Naru made to keep going south, Mai grabbed the sleeve of his jacket and tugged him to the right.

"He's probably already at the station. I'm late, after all," she griped with no further explanation.

A few more minutes and Naru admittedly was beginning to feel the chill through his clothes. He knew Mai was in less clothing, but hadn't complained once. In fact, she didn't seem to notice it at all.

At the station, they stopped and waited while Mai searched for the man from the phone call. The crowd filing in and out of the station walked with a brisk pace reminiscent of rush hour traffic. People were leaving work and in a hurry to get home. Mai surveyed the crowd for a familiar face. Naru scanned the area as well, singling out older men and childbearing adults, both of which Mai had a distinct weakness for when Naru turned them away.

And then there was that suspicious looking preschooler that kept glancing their way. Naru wouldn't be surprised if it was the little boy that Mai had come here for.

It wasn't and Naru watched as Mai fixed to the left with eyes that were a little too wide, and a grin that was forced. Exhaling in short bursts, she lifted her hand to wave half-heartedly.

Naru followed her gaze towards the buzzing crowd. Over the passerby's heads, Naru spotted a sandy-haired boy weaving between the crowd, halting when a line of people crossed his path. He waited for a break in the line and high-tailed it over to Mai, unaware that Naru was even there. He swept up to Mai, grinning broadly and wrapped her in a broad hug, tugging the smaller girl off her feet. He planted two kisses on either cheek as she fidgeted in his grip.

"Minoru. Put me down," she squeaked, wresting herself free. "Minoru."

Noting the tone in her voice, the boy put her down and laughed brightly at her bristling figure. "I texted you. I let you know I was going to be here. What's wrong?" Naru wondered if it was the corded tension in her back, or the firm set of her mouth that the daft boy missed. "You were the one who was late," Minoru argued looking defensive after he realized she was unhappy.

Chalk one up for idiocy, Naru thought snidely. The boy didn't know that when females were mad you should keep your mouth shut…unless you were quick-witted, or unusually good-looking enough to distract them. Both of which Naru proudly was, and would often remind her. It was kind of like waving a red cape at a charging bull. A good distraction, but not an entirely sound idea. Again with the bull comparison, Naru chided.

Naru eyed the boy. There wasn't anything memorable about him. He was average height, average built, soft around the edges where Naru was sharp, but nothing triggered a memory of having the boy as his client. What is going on?

Mai took a measured step away from the boy and gestured vaguely towards Naru. "Minoru, this is my boss, Shibuya Kazuya. Naru—ah, Kazuya-san—"

Casually, he said, "I don't remember him, Mai."

Bleating, she exhaled roughly, "What—of course, you don't. You've never met each other—" she whipped around to face Minoru, "—right?" She finished almost threateningly. The boy tried not to laugh and shook his head vigorously. A resounding no.

Minoru rubbed his brow and ran a hand through his hair, smiling wanly. "Sorry about that. Miwake Minoru. Pleasure to meet you." He bowed slightly.

Naru didn't look away from Mai, his confusion deepening. "He wasn't a client," he said, half a statement, half in question. Minoru, staggered by the rudeness, waved his hand near Naru, vying for attention at being intentionally ignored.

"No! He wasn't a client!" Mai sputtered. "What? Is it against policy to date former clients now even if he was? You think I would prey on distraught people like they were my only option for dating?" Her pitch rose with each word.

"Excuse me," Minoru said. His voice faded into the background as employee and employer wracked their brains to understand exactly what was going on.

"Dating…" Naru ventured distractedly.

Mai's lips puckered in a cross expression, and she looked at her boss, confused. "No, Naru, he isn't a client. He's my boyfriend," she said slowly, measuring the words out like she hadn't quite said them before.

Her boyfriend. "Not a client you were trying to help because I denied them," he prompted.

Mai scoffed and crossed her arms, assuming her battle stance. "You—gah, ultimate jerk! Why would I—w-why—honestly, I mean meet them—stupid—you think this is all about you—" Mai managed several more sugar-coated curses as she hadn't yet been able to break her primary school habit of censoring her words. Minoru was busy trying to fish her out of the grave she was digging in front of her boss which would have lowered Naru's opinion of him had Naru cared in the first place. Mai's love life was her own affair. He could honestly care less who his assistant dated.

Minoru tried to diffuse the two. "—Mai, calm down. She's really sorry—under a lot of pressure lately—tests and a vicious strain of…uh, pinkeye going around the school—also, they're playing volleyball in gym, which she's terrible at. Pinkeye and volleyball don't mix well—and math, at that—"

"—ridiculous!" The fuming girl finished, screeching and throwing her arms up. Her face was beet red from anger, and a probably skyrocketing blood pressure.

Naru merely shook his head and walked away, clutching at his jacket because he was now frozen from standing outside for too long.

Pfft. Boyfriend. And he had thought it had been something to worry about.

"Idiot!" She yelled at his retreating form.


At nearly 19 ('Two months!' she would happily boast for no good reason as a countdown to her birthday), Mai was just starting into her first year of college. She was also starting to discover the innate allure women had over some men and she was eagerly reveling in it. It also meant that she was discovering the joys of frilly, flirty and lacy skirts that on better days rested at the tops of her knees and on worse days, skimmed mid-thigh.

Naru had thought to give all three other employees a handout of proper office attire that forbade stroke-inducing skirts, but that would mean admitting that he had noticed Mai's recent change in attire. It would mean admitting that she was becoming an office distraction to everyone, himself included. Sending out a memo to everyone would also garner strange looks from Lin as he didn't wear skirts, nor notice women. Not to mention Yasuhara, the final office employee would never let him hear the end of it. Naru wouldn't be surprised if Yasuhara wore a skirt into the office just to irritate him.

Yes, Mai was undoubtedly discovering the allure of toned, bare legs on the opposite sex.

She hadn't grown much taller, and like most other girls that age, she had tried to keep up with the shifting ideal of what was trendy in pop culture. She'd cut her hair twice, permed it once, and finally was now letting it grow out a bit, long enough to curl at the base of her neck now. She was too thin for Naru's taste, her same adolescent weight was now stretched out into slightly longer limbs, thoughts he had voiced when Madoka had prodded him into sharing his opinion about his maturing assistant. 'Boney, but lovely' Madoka had called her. 'Too skinny and troublesome,' Naru countered. 'And her hair's too short.' Madoka merely smiled irritatingly.

At her desk, Naru watched the girl-soon-to-be-a-woman twirl her pen between her fingers. She spun the pen again, flicking it over the back of her fingers before catching it in a tricky maneuver. The ease in which she effortlessly caught the pen without looking as it rolled around the backside of her pinky surprised Naru. He wouldn't have suspected someone so inept at merely walking to manage to look so dexterous and fluid. Most likely it meant she had spent long hours in the classroom practicing the flick of her wrist instead of paying attention to class.

The mahogany-haired ghost hunter bounced her foot lightly over her crossed (and bare) leg as she rested her chin in her palm while reading from her textbook.

Naru crept around her desk and pawed through the unorganized files in the cases behind her noisily and fruitlessly. He wondered if Mai had even noticed that Yasuhara had replaced her magenta A-coded files with her orange M-coded ones. Probably not as she would have thrown a fit and beaten the boy senseless already. As punishment, Naru decided to let her figure it out on her own. Lazy girl.

Her phone buzzed noisily, dancing along the surface of her desk. Snatching it up like she expected Naru to grab it (which he'd briefly considered) she hit the touch-screen to unlock it. A blue message popped up. Pulling a file, Naru's back went rigid when he heard his assistant giggle. Was she laughing at him? And if so, what for?

At first, he thought it was something to do with him, but with a prepared look of disdain on his face, he turned to look at her only to see that she was smirking coyly over her phone. She laughed again as if her boss wasn't standing right behind her which annoyed Naru to no end. The girl had developed quite a lot of nerve over her tenure at S.P.R.

She also had yet to completely forgive him for up and leaving her (and Japan, but mostly her) for two months, and would occasionally remind him of that with a casually dropped barb that she would only use in order to guilt him into letting her leave early without docking her pay. The girl had worn him down bit-by-bit over the years and in the space of time between Naru's departure and Naru's return, Madoka had headed the Japan-based S.P.R.

Unfortunately, that meant that Madoka had likely taken the precious time to train his former assistant in Madoka's specialty: the wiles of wrapping men around her little finger. Something that Mai had taken to with a keen persistence. Though she became more adept at manipulating people, Mai still found Naru a difficult challenge. Naru also noticed that he was the most available outlet, Mai had pegged him for the easiest to practice on. Lately, Lin had trapped himself into his office when the first day of spring had been announced in the form of a short-skirted Mai prowling into the office. Lin had been entirely unprepared for the teen's arrival, especially at the way she'd hidden her development behind long jackets and loose-fitted pants over the winter.

Caught off-guard yet again (which was quickly becoming more and more common when it came to Mai), Naru took a steadying breath while watching his literally red-handed assistant. The pads of her fingertips were coated in red crystal candy, and a tiny molehill more lay on the desk in front of her. Forgetting the phone, Naru zeroed in on Mai's next curiosity.

"What is that?" Naru eyed the candy crystals on Mai's desk that resembled a form of illegal narcotics—and given Mai's behavior lately, short skirts being the most prominent symptom, it was entirely likely that they were narcotics—skimpy-outfit-encouraging narcotics.

"Pop rocks," Mai said, licking more of the crystals off her fingertips. "Candy," she clarified.

Naru curled his lip in distaste. "Messy food."

"Messy kind of girl," Mai quipped back.

"Think you can manage to dredge up some semblance of professional behavior," Naru groused, feeling the beginnings of annoyance blossom.

Mai stopped licking her fingers and fixed him with a stern look. "And who here is worthy of that?"

Naru scowled down at the girl again. She pulled the tip of her finger out of her mouth with a wet pop and smiled up at him with candy-dyed red lips, deliberately trying to annoy him.

"You look like you swallowed Little Red Riding Hood," Naru growled, nearing the end of his nerves.

"Woof," Mai said, grinning. Naru had to fight the urge to roll his eyes at the difficult girl.

Mai held up some crystals on the tip of her on her untouched ring finger. "Pop rock?" she offered, tilting her head in question at him, feigning innocence, assured that he would never agree to it—and she was right.

It was Madoka's accursed influence again. Mai eyed him, indifferently flirtatious with a tiny smile creasing her mouth. Her other finger trailed over her own lips as if wanting to catch every last crystal. The deadly flirtation that she had steadily been encouraging since his return had grown to mammoth proportions. Naru toyed with several ideas in his head. From scolding her to throwing her across the desk, but none that would teach her a lesson about flirting so carelessly without a thought of consequences.

At the end of her fingertip stood a casual challenge. One he couldn't let pass.

Seeing a golden opportunity to pull on her chain after she had been so relentless at yanking on his, Naru bent over the proffered finger and closed his lips over the digit. Tangy, zesty, and too sweet—the candy, not the girl, though she was a very close second to how good it tasted to his surprise. Normally, he hated sugar, but he supposed his liking the taste had more to do with whose finger it was sticking to as opposed to the chemically altered flavor. Naru watched her face, locking her eyes with his. He was intrigued at the flurry of emotions that flooded her face and the heat that rapidly flushed her neck. It made him curious as to how low that blush dipped below that shirt.

Mouth slightly parted in awe, Mai made a half-scandalized, half-wanton noise in her throat. Naru avoided running his tongue over her finger more than the customary once to clean the candy off after her eyes threatened to roll back into her head after the first sweep of his tongue. She may be out of his league in terms of her newly acquired skills in flirtation, but in terms of raw sexuality, Naru had her immeasurably overwhelmed.

Mai choked out a raspy 'stop' before she yanked her hand back and cradled it like she was wounded. She shrunk back in her chair, not unlike prey trying to blend into the background, but more like someone who was holding herself together from falling apart at the seams.

"Okay," she said a little breathily, and nodded, "No more pop rocks in the office," she promised.

"Or skirts," he tried to add in, hoping she was still too dazed to argue. Righting himself, Naru licked the corner of his mouth to seal the deal. He heard Mai swallow hard, and withheld a chuckle of victory.

Her stupor evaporated. "Bite me."

He leaned closer causing her to sink further into her chair while he shook his head at her. "Poor choice of words, Mai."

The normally quick-witted Mai faltered, tripping headfirst over her words in a speechless daze.

He left her alone for the rest of the day opting to lounge in his office. He wanted to give her space to unwind and diffuse, so that she wouldn't be apt to take out her frustration on him later.

Around 4 o'clock Bou-san and Masako arrived in the late afternoon and created a ruckus in the front room. Out of habit, Naru yelled at them from his office to quiet down only to have to emerge 10 minutes later when they were loud once again.

Takigawa sat on the edge of Mai's desk pestering her as usual. The younger girl had a quirky grin spread over her lips staring up at him with a sibling sort of reverence. She already had Takigawa wrapped around her finger. She had no need to exercise her feminine wiles on him lest she wanted to break the poor man.

Mai hastily hid the empty packet of pop rocks when she heard Naru's door click open.

Takigawa grinned broadly, reaching to ruffle her hair like a child. "Don't worry. I'll answer calls for the rest of the day. 'S not rocket-science," the monk teased. Mai nodded thankfully and accepted his lame jokes with the same encouraging acceptance that she did everyday.

Masako, spotting Naru, dipped her head low in a greeting which he didn't return.

Grabbing her purse, and bypassing the coat rack (as she had no need for a coat in the lovely weather), Mai pretended that she hadn't seen Naru and made to leave.

Pinning Mai with a look, he said, "And where are you going?"

"Out," she responded with the same icy tone.

"'Out' describes exiting the door, but unless your next answer is followed by 'In,' as in 'walking back in the door and getting back to work' you should reconsider."

Mai half-sighed, half-growled an unattractive sound.

"I'm going to Omotesando. I'm going to catch a bus from there," she lied. The ease in which she lied so quickly meant that she had planned out her answers for such an occasion. She was actually displaying some foresight. Oddly, it pleased Naru that she was thinking ahead, even if it was lying to him, her boss. It meant she was using her brain and not letting it just rot in her head. It was nice to see the lazy girl wasn't as daft as he used to think she was.

"I'm meeting a tutor for school," she clarified. That was Mai, always having to explain things out in detail—even in her lies.

"A tutor," Naru repeated skeptically.

"In English," the girl replied chipperly. "So unless there's a problem…" She put a finger to her mouth quizzically, a subtle reminder and threat of how he had teased her this morning—and unless he wanted the rest of the office to know he had molested his assistant...

She was blackmailing him! Stupid, conniving yet clever girl. Smiling brilliantly when he had nothing else to say, she said, "Nope? Okay, then. Well, see you guys next week!"

She waved to them and the door closed with a bell chime behind her. Within seconds, Takigawa smirked malevolently, ready to dissect what had just happened as none of them had missed the wired exchange between them. Naru never knew the man was such a gossipmonger.

Grinning wolfishly, the monk played with a nonexistent mustache on his face, twirling invisible hair. "Is she really meeting her tutor?" Takigawa asked them.

Masako and Naru both shook their heads. Takigawa had suspected that Masako knew, but for Naru to know…just how much didn't the man let on?

"Well," Takigawa egged him on. "What's going on? Details, details!"

Naru shrugged. "Mai will tell you if she sees fit." The monk and the medium shared a doubtful look, and then both glared poignantly at Naru, waiting for him to confirm what they already knew.

Sighing, he said, "She's dating the tutor."

Takigawa clapped his hands, pseudo-shock on his face. "You do know! How?"

Naru shrugged and opened the file that had been in his hands. "He's been in a couple times to pick her up."

Masako was fighting against speaking, but the need to know got the better of her. "Did you speak to him?" she asked quietly.

Naru flipped a few more pages over in the file, idly looking at it, but not really seeing it. "We've exchanged words," and he didn't say anymore, which from the exasperated look of the two psychics greatly bothered them.

Naru closed the file and sauntered back towards his office. "Shouldn't the two of you be doing something? Packing, maybe," he hinted. "We head out tomorrow afternoon to Takayama."

Neither took the hint. "Well, what did you say?" Takigawa pressed.

Naru glared unkindly at both of them from the doorway to his office. "I offered him tea," he said acidly, and shut the door behind him.

Next: Part 2: Winter / Summer