Disclaimer: I do not own Ghost Hunt. The novels would be out in the English... and would include psychic babies.
A/N: Apologies for my unforgivably long absence follow at the bottom.
Chapter 37 – The Turn of the Tide
Mai woke up feeling wonderful.
She'd actually gotten some real sleep on a case! Maybe she should sleep on the floor all the time... Mai opened well-rested eyes to find the patterned rug staring her in the face. It's nice and warm, she noted sleepily. Her back, especially, felt super warm and comfy.
But wait... shouldn't the floor be colder than a bed? Hmm, maybe I'm snuggled up against a radiator. Mai wiggled around a bit to get a feel for her immediate surroundings...
...and became aware of several things in rapid succession.
1) Something shifted against her back – something alive.
2) She could feel a heartbeat against her shoulder blade.
3) There was an arm around her waist.
4) Her hand was holding someone else's.
Mai gasped – was she in a psychic dream again? The teen psychic's eyes flew downward, hoping against hope that she wouldn't see Charles' tanned, callused hand clasping hers.
And she didn't.
Mai breathed a sigh of relief; her fingers were interlaced with pale, elegant ones that could only belong to Naru.
Years of re-living death scenes and seeing ghosts pop out of nowhere enabled Mai to successfully swallow the freaked-out scream building in her throat. Instead, she turned her body veeeery slooooowly... and came face to face with a slumbering Naru.
Mai's breath caught. Naru was almost more beautiful in sleep. The peacefulness in his expression was unbelievable, and the utter relaxation Mai could practically feel emanating from his supine body astonished her. Any other time she'd seen Naru asleep, he'd seemed tense and uncomfortable. Granted, most of those episodes had involved hospital beds, ambulances, and the back of the SPR van, but still... Mai's thought processes ground to a halt as Naru shifted closer, her head spinning at the tangible reminder of their proximity.
And speaking of proximity – how exactly had this happened? Mai remembered that Naru had been in the room with her last night, and that he'd woken her up during a vision... Or had he woken her twice? As if in answer, Mai's own voice crawled across her mind. 'Naru, help me.'
That's right, Naru had helped her twice. Mai had sensed he was still there, so she'd called out to him... and Naru had taken her hand. The reality of his touch had pulled Mai back to the present and out of the nightmares.
And then... Naru had stayed with her.
Blood rushed to Mai's face like a shinkansen through the Japanese countryside. "Sugoi," she whispered softly. Naru was lying next to her right now... his body was so warm against hers... She simply couldn't keep her free hand from touching Naru's cheek. Maybe if Mai were braver (or dumber), she would take off her glove and run bare fingers along his cheekbone...
Naru was the type to snap into consciousness almost instantly. This morning, however, he drifted slowly out of sleep as if waking from an anesthetic haze.
He also felt curiously content upon coming to. Naru generally regarded sleep as the wasted time between one day and another... but today, his body seemed happy to remain abed.
Eventually, Naru became aware of something warm and soft running along his face. Lifting his arm from the strangely warm pillow on which it rested, Oliver trapped the something soft against his cheek.
Immediately, someone gasped – and Naru's eyes shot open to find Mai Taniyama inches away, mouth open and shocked eyes glassy with sleep.
Naru's eyes narrowed in confusion. Hadn't he been sitting up when he fell asleep? Why hadn't Madoka shown up to relieve him? How exactly had he wound up lying next to an inappropriately disheveled Mai on the floor?
Mai's hair was falling into her face, her blue tank top was rumpled – and worst of all, the lounge pants she'd been wearing yesterday were no longer securely cinching her waist but instead riding quite low on her hips. To Naru's dismay, a tremendous amount of willpower was needed to keep his eyes away from the ring of revealed skin.
The fact that his increasingly aware brain apparently had no problem whatsoever with Mai's dishabille was more disturbing than the situation itself.
Something moved in his grasp, and Naru belatedly realized that he had trapped Mai's gloved hand against his cheek. He let go instantly - but Mai didn't scurry away like he'd expected. Instead, her arm dropped limply into the bit of space between them while she continued to stare open-mouthed into his eyes.
Oliver set his own hand down on the rug, intending to push himself off the floor... but as the tips of his fingers brushed Mai's hip on the way down, he apprehended that the 'warm pillow' that he'd imagined before had actually been Mai's waist.
Naru closed his eyes in mute horror. He had been holding Mai in his sleep.
And Mai had woken up first, so she knew about it. No wonder she was incapable of coherent reaction... wait, why was his other arm tingling? Naru briefly broke eye contact with Mai to look down at -
To make matters worse, Naru's other arm was cradling Mai's neck. And their fingers were laced together. On the floor of Mai's bedroom.
Wait, on the floor? Why were they on the floor? Naru wildly searched his memories, willing his whirring thoughts to coalesce into a clear picture.
They were on the floor because Mai had wanted to sleep there last night.
She'd been having nightmares about the case. Naru remembered taking her hand... and sliding onto the floor next to her. Somehow, she'd wound up in his lap, and Naru hadn't wanted to disturb her by leaving. Mai had calmed immediately, her sleep becoming peaceful and her face content. Unable to find an acceptable alternative, Naru had followed Mai into oblivion... and apparently into the makeshift blanket-bed.
Where they'd spent more time in physical contact than Naru had spent with anyone ever.
Naturally, Mai chose that exact moment to regain conscious movement. Her neck slid along Naru's trapped arm, and her thigh bumped up against his knee.
And to Naru's utter chagrin, the increase in body contact caused an immediate physical response.
Which Mai promptly made worse. "Naru?" she asked caringly. "Are you okay?" Naru tried (and failed) to be annoyed by the breathy and intimate timbre of Mai's voice.
At least she didn't ask it in Japanese, he mused idly.
And with that troubling and unwanted thought, Naru knew he needed to shove his mind onto another track.
But Mai's psychic gifts tended to assert themselves in the most confounding ways. Obviously recognizing the signs of deep unrest in Naru's eyes, Mai asked the question they always asked one another at times like this. "Daijoubu?"
"Sorry I don't have any tea," she continued in Japanese. "But don't worry – I'll make some as soon as we get downstairs." Mai's tone sparkled with humor.
Normally, Naru would respond with a sarcastic retort - but he was way too busy watching Mai's lips shape the words she was speaking. The cadences of her native tongue sounded simultaneously familiar and exotic. Naru wasn't used to hearing Japanese anymore... and it seemed like the only person who used it in his presence was Mai.
Or maybe he only noticed when she spoke it.
"Naru?" Mai tried again. "Seriously, are you okay? Are you sore from sleeping?"
Damn it, she was still doing it.
"I feel like I bruised my shoulder, or something." Completely unaware of the effect she was having on him, Mai rolled her shoulders back. And despite stern orders from his brain, Naru's eyes followed Mai's undulating motion all the way down to their entwined feet.
His thought processes stymied, Naru stared freely at Mai's knee sliding over his black-clad leg as she stretched. He was similarly unable to tune out Mai's half-groaned complaints about the stiffness of her limbs. In Japanese. When Mai retracted a gloved hand from the floor to rub the offending shoulder, Naru didn't even bother fighting his fascination with the shiny fabric of Mai's black glove. Unbidden, the memory of Mai flying down the stairs in a shiny nightdress superimposed itself over Naru's field of vision.
He had liked the dark blue color of the nightgown, but the black gloves were even better. It was like Mai was...
A surprised gasp shocked Naru's brain back on. He looked up to find Mai gaping at him, her mouth hanging open in shock. Naru searched their immediate vicinity for the problem... oh.
When exactly had he grabbed Mai's hand?
Mai was frozen like a deer in headlights. She had no idea what was going on.
Mai had expected Naru to go immediately cold upon waking up next to her on the floor – guards up, zero facial expression, body drawn up tight. Then he would jump away from her and say something cutting before stalking away to be a surly jackass all day. That was just how Naru worked.
Then Naru adjusted his grip on her hand, and Mai was forced to reevaluate her expectations.
Here they were, hand in hand and lying on the floor. Or more correctly, hands in hands. Naru now had hold of Mai's free hand, as well... and seemed to have no intention of releasing it. Instead, he was staring amazedly like he had never seen it before.
Mai was pretty thunderstruck, too. Naru hadn't even freaked out when she'd touched his face! Mai hadn't meant to do it, she just couldn't help herself – but he hadn't moved away.
And now Naru was studying her face with an intensity usually reserved for ghost hunting.
Mai knew she was blushing. It felt like her skin grew physically hotter the longer Naru's eyes burned into her. It seemed like he was searching for something in her face... like he was looking for an answer. Naru usually only looked like that when someone was hurt, or possessed, or – oh!
"I-I'm not possessed," Mai stuttered out.
Naru only narrowed his eyes in confusion. "What?" he asked softly.
Mai tried very hard not to focus on how sexy Naru's just-woken-up voice sounded. Or the fact that he'd answered her in Japanese. Other than occasionally switching languages to address Mai as baka, Naru had only spoken one word of Japanese the entire time she'd been in England. "I'm not possessed, Naru," she elaborated, switching to English in an effort to get through to him. "The nightmares are gone. They didn't come back at all." Mai couldn't keep from smiling widely. "I don't think I've ever slept that well on a case!"
The teen psychic wasn't exactly sure what she had expected Naru to do upon this declaration – but Mai wouldn't have guessed he would stare even harder at her face with a troubled look in his eyes.
"I'm not possessed," Mai insisted.
A muscle in Naru's cheek twitched. "I might be," he replied enigmatically.
Mai inhaled sharply – wouldn't she have sensed that? She pressed her fingers harder against Naru's, trying to feel his skin through the tiny holes in her gloves. If he was possessed, direct contact would help Mai discern the presence of a spirit. But she felt nothing unearthly...
So instead Mai stared up into Naru's eyes – and stopped breathing. Mai was utterly mesmerized by the emotions she could see swimming in the dark blue depths.
Naru watched the expression in Mai's eyes shift from nervous to awed, and realized his face must be giving too much away. He'd been too busy attempting to sort through his confounding feelings to maintain a stoic mien, and now Mai was staring like he was the strangest thing she'd ever seen.
Step right up to see the great Oliver Davis act like an over-emotional nitwit! The catcalling voice in his head sounded like a strange mixture of Gene and Yasuhara.
Feeling incredibly foolish, Naru dropped Mai's hand. He pulled his leg out from under hers, rolled away from her body, and fired off a string of silent obscenities at whatever part of himself was responsible for this mess.
"Naru..." Mai began.
He closed his eyes and said nothing. He was obviously incapable of dealing normally with Mai right now.
And then her gloved fingers across his cheek again.
Naru's eyes snapped open.
"There was a piece of lint," she explained softly, holding it up between them. "A Narcissist can't walk around with pink lint on his face." Mai's eyes danced as she spoke, and Naru's insides twisted.
He absolutely could not help reaching over and gently lifting a matching snarl of detritus from Mai's hair.
Just like Mai couldn't help gaping at Naru like he'd gone crazy.
Maybe he had.
However, Naru was still self-aware enough to know he had to get out of this situation immediately. He needed to think about something else, and that obviously wasn't going to happen while lying on the floor with Mai. Gritting his teeth, Naru groped for a normal response. "It's cerise," he said finally.
Mai peered at him uncomprehendingly. "What?"
"The rug isn't pink," Naru replied as smugly as he could manage, deliberately avoiding Mai's eyes as he levered himself off of the floor. "It's cerise."
Mai definitely heard That Tone in Naru's voice – the Tone that usually got her back up in two seconds flat. Automatically, her mouth opened to snipe back.
But Naru was talking about a rug they'd been lying on together all night.
And he'd just slid a piece of cerise lint out of her hair.
And before that, he'd grabbed her hand.
And most importantly – Naru had only been on the floor to help her keep the nightmares away. She owed him one.
Mai promptly swallowed the retort on the tip of her tongue, and smiled gently at Naru's tensed-up back. "Sooo... is cerise more acceptable than pink?" she joked. Maybe if she acted like nothing out of the ordinary had happened, he wouldn't go J-Alert on everyone today.
A quick look at Naru's clenched fists told her that brushing this off wasn't going to work. Time to break out the big guns. "Naru, I – I'm sorry," Mai apologized.
Her words surprised Naru enough that he turned back around. "What?" he asked uncomprehendingly (the irony of role reversal not escaping him).
Mai had no idea what to make of Naru's expression. "I'm sorry about all this," she explained, waving a hand at the mess of blankets on the floor. "I get nightmares all the time, I'm sorry I dragged you into it." She chuckled. "Literally."
"Mai." Naru's voice was commanding and steady, even as his insides rollicked around like a small boat caught in a squall. When Mai's head snapped up, Naru forced himself to meet her unnecessarily penitent gaze. "Don't apologize. I..." Naru had no idea how to continue without revealing something he didn't understand himself. "It worked, and now you're better-rested for the exorcism."
And he was better-rested than he'd been since... ever. Naru forced this thought away. "We need to plan the exorcism, so come downstairs as soon as you're dressed."
"Okay," Mai nodded, standing up in the blanket-nest and smoothing her rumpled shirt. Then she took in Naru's full-length appearance, and couldn't help giggling. "You should probably change, too. Imagine what Madoka would say if you walked into base like that."
Glancing down, Naru's jaw clenched at the sight of his half-untucked shirt, wrecked collar and hopelessly wrinkled pants. There were also several clumps of carpet lint plastered to his clothes.
Naru knew exactly what Madoka would say if she saw this. He could hear the endless innuendo interspersed with childish sniggering already. But Mai seemed unaware of an important fact. "The same things she'd say to you, I'd imagine," Naru replied with a smirk. "And given the rooming situation, she'll probably see you first."
Mai's eyes bugged satisfyingly. "Ie!" she cried, racing into the bathroom.
Naru tried to savor the victory as he strode away... but he couldn't help feeling like he'd won a battle and lost a war.
The boys' bedroom was mercifully empty when Naru all but flung himself inside. His usual disdain for company magnified exponentially, the ghost hunter made sure to close the door behind him. Naru even briefly considered jamming a chair underneath the knob.
His walk down the hallway had been debilitating. Getting away to 'think clearly' was evidently an ever bigger mistake than falling asleep on the floor. Once the distraction of Mai's presence was removed, the 'petty emotional drama' Naru had been suppressing came crashing back into his head with a vengeance. The case he intended to focus on was all but forgotten.
And after his extremely unusual wake-up call, Naru could no longer shift the mountain of evidence to the side in defense of his position. He reckoned that a bulldozer would have a hard time sweeping the mountain away.
He didn't even bother insisting it wasn't that. "But there could be another explanation," he muttered rebelliously.
Now to find another explanation.
It is perfectly normal, Oliver Davis postulated silently (ignoring the hint of desperation in his mental tone), for one's body to seek warmth and comfort while unconscious. The fact that it was Mai I followed onto the floor is simply unfortunate coincidence.
When forming a hypothesis, it was Naru's custom to first identify his possible thesis and then ferret out any holes in his logic. In this case, he really didn't want to.
But despite this decidedly unscientific desire, Naru's mind was extremely quick to point out the glaring holes in his argument.
The fact that you were in the position to follow Mai into bed was the result of a CONSCIOUS decision you made to grab her hand, his internal sounding board countered swiftly.
Naru gritted his teeth.
And THAT decision was predicated by your choice to wake Mai via cupping her cheek and whispering in her ear.
Why did his internal sounding board sound so gleeful today?
"I wasn't about to throw water at her," Naru hissed to himself. Out of reflex, he marked the time that the newly developed pseudo-schizophrenia set in. "Or slap her like those other idiots."
It was the kind of argument Naru would give to Madoka – something slightly humanizing to appease her, mixed with a little meanness to redirect her focus away from the uncomfortable subject. It worked eight times out of ten.
But Naru was not Madoka – Oliver Davis gave no quarter for deflective justifications.
So the extremely sentimental alternative you elected seemed a more NORMAL response?
Naru had no counter for that one. Normally, he shied away from any sort of physical affection; even when he accepted Luella's hugs, he was awkward and slow to react. Naru was never the initiator.
Speaking of initiating, his mental antistrophe continued blithely, the entire situation was caused by your illogical decision to carry Mai to bed.
At least on this point, Naru could defend himself. "What else could I have done?" he argued aloud. "I wasn't about to leave Mai sleeping in the base."
Why not? Naru's 'sounding board' suddenly sounded a lot like Madoka. Oh, right, because you'd be DISTRACTED by her presence.
"She is a distracting person," Naru insisted. A hundred different scenes of Mai ran through his mind. Mai yelling, Mai laughing, Mai tripping over nothing. Mai sticking her tongue out at him, Mai handing him tea, Mai curling up on her favorite chair in the Davis sitting room...
Naru ruthlessly quashed the warm feelings rising inside him and sought other, more appropriate examples of Mai's distracting nature.
Mai dropping cameras, Mai asking endless questions, Mai's awed look when he answers her questions, Mai's happy smile upon finishing equipment set-up...
Damn it. Naru tried again.
Mai strolling in late to work, Mai rolling her eyes at his rebukes, Mai poking fun at him, Mai drawing herself up in anger, Mai lifting her chin before starting to chant... the steadiness in her voice as floorboards exploded around them, her fingers curling into his shirt as he rolled them away from the wrecked hallway...
Naru gritted his teeth.
Mai yelling for him in panic...
But that didn't annoy Naru so much as worry him. Mai seemed to call for him whenever she was in danger... and he's always jumped before she hit the second syllable of his name. Whatever else Naru was thinking about fell right out of his brain when Mai screamed.
Naru drew a shaky breath as the tenor of his thoughts continued to change.
Mai raging at him in the cave, the relief in her eyes when he woke up in the hospital... the blush on Mai's face when Naru smiled at her for the first time, the look in her eyes when she thanked him for the video, the way her hair fell in front of his eyes when she kissed his cheek...
Aware that his plan had backfired spectacularly, Naru gave in and allowed the wash of memory to sweep him toward its goal.
The hypnotic effect of Mai's hand reaching out for him this morning, the way his thoughts ground to a halt when she touched his cheek... Naru swallowed hard as the ghost of her touch slid along his cheekbone.
The way he felt when Mai's nightmare-stricken visage calmed under his touch... the overwhelming tenderness he felt upon studying Mai's sleeping face.
Mai's face had remained so clear in his memory, even after two years apart. Her voice stayed so strong in his head that Naru used to wonder whether Mai was somehow in London and hiding just out of sight.
The way her words resonated within him – every argument, every joke, every amazingly intuitive thing she came out with. Mai's intuition was tied to her empathetic and caring nature in a way that Naru seldom failed to appreciate.
Naru closed his eyes in defeat as his self-awareness shifted to accommodate the obvious.
The instant Mai walked into base, she knew it was going to be a trying day.
Madoka Mori was sitting right inside the door – and obviously lying in wait. She was also wearing fresh clothes... so Madoka must have been in the room at some point. Which meant she'd seen something.
Of course, the master ghost hunter's shark-like grin was also a dead giveaway.
Mai briefly debated hiding upstairs until Naru emerged to deal with his mentor.
"Now don't be a chicken, Mai-chan," Madoka sang, as if reading her newest protégée's mind. "Might as well rip off the bandage now – I'll only torment you later. We do share a room, you know." The shark grin returned. "Unless you plan on sleeping with Noll again, of course."
"Ugh, don't say it like that!" Mai cried, face hot and voice tight.
"You would prefer 'tangled up in one another on the floor?'" Madoka giggled. "I think that sounds worse, but..."
"Please shut up," Mai moaned, flopping onto the couch. "He was just trying to help me with my nightmare."
"Wait, you had your Nightmare last night?" Madoka asked quickly, snapping into Concerned Mode.
"No, not The Nightmare." Mai shook her head. "But the bed I was sleeping in... I think it must have originally belonged to Linda. It triggered a repeating psychic nightmare."
"Prompting your shift to the floor," Madoka surmised. Then she raised an eyebrow. "But why didn't you just sleep in my bed?"
"I would have fallen asleep before you came in," Mai explained. "You wouldn't have known not to sleep in the haunted one."
"Aww, Mai-chan." Ruffling Mai's hair affectionately, Madoka plopped down next to her on the couch. Then she closed her eyes as the world spun. "Cripes, I have to remember not to move so fast," she groaned.
Mai peered worriedly at Madoka's bandage. "Have you changed the dressings yet?" she asked. "Take it from someone who knows – you want to keep up with that stuff."
"Lin changed my bandages last night before we went to bed," Madoka affirmed – and that near-malicious grin crept over her face once more.
Mai reckoned it looked even more ominous from close up. "Well, that's good," Mai noted airily, standing up and looking to the monitors. Maybe she could slip the headphones on really fast and pretend to hear an EVP or something.
And then the room pitched as Madoka unceremoniously yanked the teen psychic back down onto the couch.
"Not so fast," the lead investigator hissed. "My head injury and I didn't wake up extra-super-early to be thwarted by maidenly shyness!"
In desperation, Mai summoned her best puppy-eyes. "Please let it go?"
Madoka's raised eyebrow and unrelenting expression reminded Mai way too much of her recent accidental bedmate. "Not a chance."
Mai wilted, and Madoka hugged her slumped shoulders. "Mai-chan," she said seriously. "Do you have any idea how long we've been waiting for something like this?"
"You guys need a hobby," Mai grumbled.
Madoka continued as if she hadn't heard. "I mean, I come into the room last night and there's Noll – Noll, whose own adopted mother has to put in advance requests for physical affection – sitting there unconscious with your head in his lap!"
"I know, Madoka, I was there – wait, hold on!" Mai pulled out of Madoka's embrace and stared her boss down. "Naru was sitting up when you saw us?" Mai had been under the impression she'd yanked him all the way down to the floor.
"Are you saying he wasn't sitting when you woke up?" Madoka gasped.
"W-well, most people lie down when they're sleeping," Mai tried to backpedal.
"So Noll was lying down next to you?!" Madoka was practically vibrating with excitement. "Were you still holding hands when you woke up?"
No amount of onmyouji training could keep Mai from blushing at the completely spot-on accusation. "I-I don't really remember..." she lied weakly.
"Bullocks!" Madoka yelled.
"It's, um, kinda hazy?" Mai tried again. She wasn't lying this time – the entire encounter still felt like some awesome-yet-terrifying dream.
But it had definitely been Real Naru in the dream this time...
Madoka misinterpreted Mai's newly faraway expression. "Hang on – did you guys kiss?!" she shrieked.
"What? No!" Mai cried, waving her hands wildly. Unbidden, an image of Naru's hand reaching into her hair slid into Mai's mind. She bit down hard on her lip to keep from smiling.
"But something happened," Madoka decided. "You're looking far too pleased for –"
"Considering that one of you is nursing a head injury," a deep voice interrupted, "I would like to remind you both that speaking at such decibels is counterintuitive."
"Lin!" Mai cried in relief.
The onmyouji raised an eyebrow at the desperation on his student's face – like he was the last life raft on a sinking ship.
Lin had successfully avoided overt entanglement in this morning's drama thus far... although he had just witnessed a practically catatonic Noll stare unblinkingly at a blank wall for at least five minutes.
Gregory had yanked him into the boys' room, hissing about Dr. Davis appearing to be possessed. After listening to the report from his shiki, Lin had unthinkingly replied, "Oliver is not possessed – not by a ghost, anyway." Gregory's slack jaw and comprehending eyes probably meant that the gossip mill at SPR would be working overtime upon their return.
However, Lin found himself unconcerned with his slip of the tongue – as far as the onmyouji was concerned, Noll was in Lin's debt. It was Noll's ego and emotional stuntedness that kept forcing Lin into the middle of these emotional situations.
Speaking of emotional situations... Mai Taniyama was still screaming 'Save me!' with her eyes. Lin sighed. "Noll will be down soon," he lied. "And you will ruin whatever progress he's made by harping on this, Madoka."
His girlfriend had barely slumped into an accepting pout when Mai fired up. "Progress?" she asked disbelievingly. "Please don't tell me you agree with Madoka's crazy theory about Naru –"
Lin threw Mai a glare so cold that her body froze along with her words. "Progress toward ending this case," he hedged. "We're almost done, and the last thing we need is Noll running off in a sulk."
Mai's face cleared. "Oh. Yeah, that makes sense."
The onmyouji wasn't sure whether to congratulate himself for successfully defusing both women or smack his head into the nearest wall until he blacked out. Was Mai truly so dense, or was she retreating to the same wall of denial Noll was barricaded behind?
When Madoka tossed him a conspiratorial wink, Lin decided not to think about it anymore. He sat down at the monitors and logged temperature flares in the solarium.
After all was said and done, perhaps Lin would suggest that Koujo was a nice name for the first child of two of his students.
Whatever Naru had expected upon meeting Mai's eyes for the first time since his... acquisition of new knowledge, it definitely wasn't for her to immediately slam into an invisible wall and slump to the base floor.
"Mai!" Naru streaked to her side and slid a hand underneath her shoulders. She tensed immediately, and Naru wondered whether she was uncomfortable around him after this morning's events.
Then Mai's eyes rolled into the back of her head, and Naru gritted his teeth at his own stupidity as she collapsed into his hold.
"She's fallen into a vision," he barked at the dithering Madoka and Gregory. "Help me get her onto the couch."
Gregory dutifully grabbed Mai's legs, and together they eased her onto a softer berth. As Gregory turned away to retrieve the EEG equipment, Madoka sidled up next to Naru and pulled him in close. "I told you to bulk up," she whispered tauntingly into his ear. "Maybe if you were stronger, you could have dumped Mai onto a bed and saved yourself a night on the floor together."
"Your argument is without merit," Naru hissed back. "I carried her out of the base and upstairs last night."
"Ah, that's riiiight," Madoka nodded as if she'd forgotten. "So then you chose to cuddle together on the floor rather than move Mai to a bed."
Naru froze for a whole minute before grinding out, "Madoka, shut up or so help me –"
"Look here!" Gregory called, waving his free arm. "The EEG is picking something up!" Gregory's waving fingers glistened; he had paused in the middle of spreading gel on Mai's wrist.
Naru also noticed that Mai already had electrodes attached to her temples. Normally, he would be impressed with Gregory's efficiency – but presently, Oliver Davis could barely stop himself from slapping the intern's hand away from Mai's unconscious body.
He forced himself to walk calmly over to the EEG machine and study the readout with Madoka. Gregory was right; the waves signified that Mai's brain was extremely active despite her lack of consciousness. Combined with the lower-than-normal body temperature Naru had noticed when he'd held her, all signs indicated that Mai was wending her way through another possession.
And then suddenly, the EEG quieted and Mai's brain activity dropped significantly. Naru felt a cold breeze flow through the room, and he head Madoka groan next to him as she reached for her bandaged head.
"What's happening?" Gregory asked nervously.
Naru snapped back into work mode with relish, regarding Mai with a professional eye and resolutely tamping down his personal concern. She remained completely unconscious and totally motionless. He watched as Madoka poked Mai hard in the side – nothing.
The master ghost hunter then lifted the arm unencumbered with electrodes and unceremoniously dropped it onto Mai's chest. Still no response. "She's astral projecting," Madoka confirmed.
Gregory looked awed. "That's amazing," he said, staring at the now-calmer readouts.
Lin looked back to the monitors. "I don't see anything unusual on the cameras," he noted. "She never seems to astral walk on this plane." The professor had wondered about where exactly Mai went when she projected.
"But would Mai's spirit register the same way a ghost's does?" Madoka countered.
No one answered – though Naru didn't have to. Mai had almost certainly been pulled out of the possession by Gene. She wouldn't show up on camera because she was in the 'Realm of Lingering Spirits' with his idiot brother.
Lin noticed that his former charge looked troubled. "Judging from what happened the last time someone woke Taniyama-san up during a dream, I suggest we leave her be," he suggested.
Naru favored Lin with an irritated stare. Had admitting... that to himself made his internal struggles so obvious?
"Taniyama-san wasn't hurt during any of her dreams on this case," Lin continued, trying to use logic to calm the frustrated researcher. "I don't think she'll be hurt if we let her sleep. And obviously, there is something about the case we're missing if she's dreaming again."
Naru could have smacked himself. Lin simply thought he was worried for Mai's safety.
And he probably should be – Mai was always getting herself into trouble. Naru should be considering all possibilities, instead of assuming Gene and Mai were off traipsing through the spirit plane together.
Naru had been right about something – that made a person foolish. It made you think stupid things, and swallowed up logic with irrational feelings.
And Naru knew he was being an idiot, knew that feeling that for Mai was pointless. Mai had never met Gene in life, yet their spiritual connection was so strong that she found Gene in psychic dreams long before his own psychically connected brother could sense his presence.
An idiot scientist, Gene had labeled him. How right he was.
The scientist part of Naru knew feelings of that nature for Mai were pointless.
The idiot part of Naru went and fell in love with her anyway.
A/N: I know. I know I know I know I know. I can't believe it, either. I feel like a total jerk for not updating. I just got kinda depressed over some stuff and totally lost the drive to do much of anything.
Then, oddly enough, my best friend and I were debating over our yearly trip together... and we decided to suck it up and spend way too money and go to London. The moment we booked the trip, I felt like my head broke the surface and I could do things like write again.
So yay. And I hope this chapter's realizations and UST make up for the long wait. Provided I don't get kicked off the night train to Scotland and get lost in the wilderness (something like that actually happened to passengers on the last night train I was on), I will update far more frequently.
You guys are the best readers ever.