Hiya everyone! Well, this is the revised version of 'Love Hunt' that most people liked (though it was purely awful). I've tried very hard to make it better and have switched the plot and story around a bit. Please enjoy!
Automatically, I responded to the command with what now seemed like a kick in the shin reflex, strolling into my boss' office.
"Yes Naru?" I yawned while leaning on the side of the door, stretching my hands in front of me—today had been a lazy day without much business; I was bored and tired. Naru, sitting in his black swivel chair and scouring over manila folders that contained requests, looked up at me with blank eyes. He looked near as bored as I felt. "Tea, I presume?"
"No, but now that you mentioned it, yes, I would enjoy some."
I rolled my eyes; he was so predictable.
"Tea related matters aside, we leave tomorrow at seven for Jinsei no Haru in Kagoshima."
"K-Kagoshima?" I yelped. "But Kagoshima is at least twelve hours away from Tokyo!"
Although Kagoshima was beautiful and well known for its springs and beaches, it was nearly half a day's drive just to get there by car. Plane would be easier, but Naru, being the frugal, penny-pincher boss he was, would never take a plane to his destinations if he'd have his way, I'd be carrying him in a rickshaw if it'd save money. No, strike that. He'd have me piggyback him there.
"Can we please just take a plane? It's so much faster!"
"No. Taking a plane is a waste of money when we can just drive there."
It would waste money, he said. As if I didn't waste enough money to buy him his stupid tea bags every month. And some of that money was out of my own pocket, too!
"But Naru…" I whined with an open mouthed frown.
"No buts," he snapped.
Still frowning, I crossed my arms and my frown melted into a pout. "Then at least tell me what we're gonna be doing there…"
"Perhaps later, but for now, there's something you should be aware of." Naru, who had been scanning through mountain upon mountains of papers, suddenly stopped and pressed his fingers together, eyeing me seriously.
I raised an eyebrow in semi-curiosity.
"We're getting married."
If I hadn't been leaning on the doorframe, I would have fallen over. I reached up to stick my pinky finger into my ear in a stuttering, robotic-like fashion—as if it would clear away an obstruction that prevented me from hearing correctly. "E-excuse me? Naru, I-I don't think I heard you right," I stammered. Obviously I had heard wrong, it was my overactive imagination and wishful thinking. I stumbled into the room, coming to a stop directly in front of his desk.
"No, you heard right. We're getting married."
Or maybe I had heard right; which left me with only one scenario left—I was dreaming. Had I fallen asleep again without realizing it? If so, this was all just one of Gene's pranks. Naru was going to be pissed when I woke up…
"I can assure you, you're not dreaming Mai," he said dryly.
"T-then explain yourself Naru!" My face was red, eyes wide, hands trembling from embarrassment. Married? But-but, we haven't even dated! A-and Naru turned me down two years ago, I thought he didn't like me! He can't be serious! Oh my God, maybe that's why he wants to go to Kagoshima! For the honeymoon! I can't believe this!
"Relax Mai, it's not a real marriage." Reality came crashing back down like a slap to the face and I calmed myself after taking a few deep breaths, my hand to my heart to steady the hell reigning in my chest. I certainly felt relieved, I mean marriage at my age but…but I still couldn't help the small pinch of disappointment clip at the edges of my heart. "I've accepted a case that requires us to go undercover. Takigawa-san and Matsuzaki-san will be posing as a married couple as well."
That explained things at least, but I was still slightly confused; apparently Naru could tell because he sighed and handed me a stack of papers held together by a paper clip.
"The site is Jinsei no Haru, a hot spring resort owned by a young woman—mid twenties at most. According to her, a spirit has been haunting the resort for as long as she's owned it, but she was too scared to report it. It only attacks married couples and so far it's injured fourteen people and killed three; the spirit appears to have no preference on gender."
I flipped through pages of written police reports, skimming every now and then, ultimately stopping with a gasp at the gruesome pictures of the bloody, mangled and badly burned bodies. Naru seemed to know what page I was on.
"Some victims are stabbed, others are found boiled to death in the outdoor spring. Akemi-san, the owner of Jinsei no Haru, has offered to pay any price so long as we rid her hot springs of this…menace." Naru folded his hands in his lap as I gulped.
"So, you and I are going to act like we're married to lure out this ghost?" Just thinking about it made my bones feel like jelly and my knees go weak.
"Precisely, and no one outside of SPR may know that we are just going undercover. We need everyone we interact with to be certain that we're actually married as we don't know if the phenomenon is being caused by a human or by a spirit." He gave me that stern look of his, the one that told me that I had better follow orders to the letter—or else…although I always seemed to find out what 'or else' was.
"No worries, sire." I handed him back the papers and he motioned to the chair beside him. I sat, pulling it to the desk so we were facing each other.
"Good." Naru put the information back into the manila folder, only to bring out a different one. "Now sign this." He gave me the other folder along with a pen.
I raised an eyebrow as I undid the clasp, sliding out a single, thick piece of paper—a marriage license. I choked before jumping up, the license clutched in both hands.
"Wait!" I exclaimed. "You said this was a fake marriage!"
"And it is," he answered calmly. "That marriage license is a very realistic imitation. Akemi-san will only rent out rooms to two people of the opposite sex if they are married—which we will be—and to make sure they are married, she requires seeing their marriage license." He paused to see if I was still following—which I was. "Therefore, we need one of our own if we are to get rooms for Takigawa-san and Matsuzaki-san, plus you and myself. Lin will be staying with the equipment in the base." He explained it all as if it was no big deal, returning to grazing through stacks of papers in a nonchalant way.
"I see…" I eased back down into my seat, all the while staring at the parchment—Naru's Japanese name was printed nicely on the first line. Before writing my name, I glanced up at my boss who was reading and tossing papers. Can I really share a room with Naru? I've never shared a room with a man before, much less him. I took a deep breath. Okay Mai forget about it and just sign the paper, it's fake anyway. Carefully, I scrawled out Taniyama Mai on the line right below the one that read Shibuya Kazuya. "Done."
Wordlessly, he held out a hand, still focused on reading the documents. "Be here on time tomorrow."
"I will," I promised with a smile.
"I believe I asked earlier for tea. Don't make me do it again."
My smile turned into a scowl. "Right. Coming right up, Dan'na-sama." I slapped the completed license back in his hand and hurried out of the office.
Day 1, 7:30 pm
"So how does it feel to be Shibuya Mai?" Ayako asked with a smirk.
"How does it feel to be Takigawa Ayako?" I retorted with my own smug grin.
"Touché." The older woman laughed as she patted my shoulder. We were parked in front of Jinsei no Haru—which sprawled in every direction—and were unloading our gear. The drive had been so long and silent as everyone was too tired and bored to make conversation, but the scenery was beautiful to look at and it passed the time easily enough. I smiled pleasantly as I eased a microphone out of the back of the van.
"Mai," Naru called. I finished wriggling the piece of equipment out and set it gingerly on the ground before dashing off to find him standing next to the open driver's door. "Here." He placed something small in my palm. "If you don't wear that, people will obviously doubt that we're married."
"Ah, right." I mumbled, slipping the plain, silver ring onto my left hand's ring finger. Having it there felt odd, I wasn't used to wearing rigs on my left hand; but it looked good. Flashy jewelry never seemed to suite me, gaudy earrings made me look loose and necklaces made me look like a schoolgirl—or so I thought anyway. But this ring, simple yet elegant in its design, fit me in a way that I couldn't explain; it looked like it was made especially for me, for my tastes. "It looks good…" I murmured, a smile dawning on my face.
"Of course it does, I picked it out myself," Naru said in a superior tone, making me roll my eyes.
"Right. Because you are the all-mighty Naru."
"I appreciate your praise, however, finish unloading first. It's late, not to mention we still need to check in." He acted as if he hadn't caught my obvious sarcasm and pointed to the back of the van. I scrunched up my nose and stuck out my tongue; some husband he was, ordering his wife around like that—how misogynistic. "Stick that back in your mouth before I chop it off."
I sucked my tongue back in, pursing my lips in a scowl.
"Now go back to work, and don't do anything suspicious," Naru commanded, turning his back to me.
After painstakingly remove each individual device, which took around a good, painfully boring half hour, a new voice cleared their throat. I turned my head to see a beautiful young woman in the purest white yukata, as bright as freshly fallen snow. She was model thin; her pale skin made her jet-black hair, tucked into a neat bun, stand out like a beacon and her lips were such a rosy shade of red it made my gut burn with envy. All in all, the woman was nearly goddess-like in her appearance.
"Would I be correct in assuming that you're SPR?" she asked softly.
"Yes." Naru stepped out from behind the van. "I am Shibuya Kazuya, director of Shibuya Psychic Research. I've brought a monk and priestess as well as my two assistants." He motioned to our group, but never offered a hand for the woman to shake.
"Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to come here, I really appreciate it." The woman, who I realized must have been Akemi, smiled—it was full of poorly masked pain and anxiety.
"It's no problem, I assure you," I cut in with my own, genuine, smile; Akemi turned to me.
"Ah, and are you the priestess? You look quite young." She glanced over me with her auburn colored eyes.
"Ah, no, I'm one of his two assistants." In the background, I could hear Ayako quietly complaining about how people always scoffed at her being a priestess. Akemi looked startled, her gaze shifting from me to Ayako.
"I see. So you must be the wife of the director then, right? He had mentioned that he was married to his assistant." Her eyes narrowed in speculation, but were devoid of suspicion, at least for now.
"Y-yes!" I fumbled with a cheesy grin, scratching the back of my head. "Taniyama Mai at your service."
Akemi's narrowed eyes widened before she confusedly murmured:
At once I realized my mistake; I hadn't been thinking and my real last name had slipped out before I could stop it.
"She means Shibuya," Naru said coolly as he appeared by my side, taking my hand and tightening his grip warningly. "We were married just recently and she still has a bit of trouble adjusting sometimes."
Thank goodness for Naru's level headedness and quick thinking, otherwise I would have blown our cover right from the get go. Naru would chew me out later, after the blood circulation in my hand returned; that I was sure of.
"Oh, I see." Akemi laughed, covering her mouth with her yukata sleeve, much like a certain medium we knew. "I suppose it does take some getting used to. Well, come, follow me and I'll get you your rooms." Akemi turned and headed up the long, stone walkway that led to the massive resort. "Oh, and leave your things, you have so much equipment that it would be troublesome to have you bring it in yourselves. I'll have some employees carry it in for you," she called over her shoulder, waving us forward with a hand. I grinned happily knowing that I wouldn't have to be doing any more heavy lifting.
"Mai." Naru's voice made me flinch; yeah…he was very, very angry. Cautiously, I peeked at him with wide, brown eyes. "I thought I told you not to do anything suspicious," he said quietly, unflinchingly.
What made Naru scarier than most people was his inability to yell. When Naru was angry, his voice got eerily calm, controlled and overly articulated—which, according to me, was way scarier than someone yelling. That, and his glare, made most people nearly pee their pants; however, I was somewhat used to it, so I wasn't in the 'pee your pants' category…at least, not anymore.
"I know, I'm sorry. It just kinda slipped out." I laughed nervously and quietly.
"We can't make those types of accidents common occurrences." His tone dropped in volume so quickly it made me shiver; I nodded my head fervently.
"Ouch! You stepped on my foot!" Ayako yelped suddenly, causing me to turn and stare at the pair trailing after Naru and I.
"Well sorry, maybe you shouldn't walk right in front of me," Bou-san retorted with an indignant snort. The red head whirled on him with a furious glare.
"Well maybe you shouldn't be breathing down my neck, you know you don't have to walk directly behind me," she hissed. I rolled my eyes and ignored them, hurrying after Naru who had left me behind, ignoring Bou-san and Ayako from the start.
"Well maybe I wouldn't be 'breathing down your neck' if you'd walk faster, woman."
The two continued to fight unhindered, even as Lin passed them with that annoyed and bored look of his that made most people self-conscious of what they were doing at that moment. Takigawa and Ayako, however, seemed immune.
This is all thanks to my wonderful betareader :) I couldn't have done it without her. Please review! Tell me what you think, what you like, what you didn't like, and all that good jazz.