A/N: For those of you who have been around for a long time and who have checked out my Author's Page (which is in desperate need of updating) you will probably have seen in my 'Upcoming Stories' section a little piece that's been there for a few years now under the title 'Yuletide'. It was meant to be a Christmas present for my sister back in… I think 2009. Maybe 2010. At the time she had requested it herself, something Ghost Hunt related that featured the pairing of Naru/Lin as apparently it was a rare ship to find. I took it on.
And then forgot about it.
This last November I finally got around to writing it out and gave it to her this Christmas, all printed out prettily and everything. She was very surprised and happy about it. I was very surprised to see that Naru/Lin is still relatively rare, at least as far as I've been able to find. So any other fans of this ship, Merry – belated – Christmas!
Ghost Hunt OST by Toshio Masuda.
Disclaimer:Ghost Hunt and related characters © Fuyumi Ono and Funimation Entertainment.
It was Christmas again at Shibuya Psychic Research Center, and the main office this year was full. Not of clients for a change, or even of the rare occurrence of reporters or journalists who needed to pad out their columns and found SPR good filler material, but of colleagues and coworkers… friends.
It seemed strange to Lin, standing a little apart from the rest and their revelry, that SPR, and more pointedly the people who comprised it, would become the center of something so undeniably warm and feeling as a Christmas party. When SPR had begun it had only been himself and Kazuya – Naru – and neither of them were what one would call the sociable or celebratory type, far from it. A year ago if anyone had asked them if they would come willingly to a Christmas party, the unanimous and emphatic reply would have been 'no.' That they would not only be attending, but hosting the party would have been ludicrous.
But such was the case and the two of them, the recognized cold bloods in the room, were enjoying themselves as much as anyone else, if not as noticeably. Mai had gotten a tree again this year and trimmed it to within an inch of its evergreen life, but this time with the approval of Naru and begrudging help from Lin. In preparation of the party some food had been prepared, finger foods that were easy to graze on, as the focus of the day was in company, not in eating.
And there were plenty of familiar faces to meet up with. Lin marveled a little at the group they had somehow gathered around them, as from nowhere and in relatively short order.
There was of course Mori Madoka, Naru's mentor and frequent annoyance. It would be difficult to have any kind of event without her trying to crash it, it was simpler to just invite her than to wait and see how she would insinuate herself into their little gathering. Lin secretly thought she resented their taking the challenge away from her. With her had come Yasuhara Osamu, who seemed to have become a kind of assistant to Mori since graduating from high school. He did have plans for college, but those seemed to have been put on hold for now in favor of following Mori around. Lin wondered if he would become another practitioner in this odd trade of the paranormal or if he would manage to extricate himself from it all and live something close to a normal life. If he were hanging out with Mori, that was looking less likely with each day.
They were each standing near the tree and holding a conversation with John, their little Australian Catholic priest. From where he stood Lin couldn't make out what was being said, but there were smiles all around so it probably wasn't business they were discussing. Which was as it should be.
It was still hard to believe someone as young as John was a fully ordained priest, not just capable of performing exorcisms, but incredibly talented at it. His time spent as part of the team with SPR had given the boy a measure of practical experience as well as notoriety. Within the Catholic church 'John Brown' was becoming the name one automatically reached for when an exorcist was needed. It was an odd specialty but one that John had a gift for, so he was often called on for the work and travelled widely over Japan even without tagging along on SPR cases. Lin rather liked the friendly little Australian. He was knowledgeable and professional, and left Lin to himself rather than trying to draw him out. It must have been his training in the cloisters that disposed him to that kind of deportment.
Standing just a little apart from them were the other five, the last of the party that made up the party. Each of them, Lin realized, had changed quite a bit over the last year, each of them making names for themselves and growing in their particular niches of the trade.
For a start there was Masako Hara, the young spirit medium. She and her family had acted as SPR's patrons when they were first starting up, though they hardly required it anymore. Her television program, rather than waning with time was becoming even more popular, which led to her small practice of consultations growing right along with it. There were rumors as well, though unconfirmed, that she had met a man with abilities very similar to her own, and the two of them were developing an understanding. Lin had no way of knowing if that were true – or at least no way he was willing to use at the moment – but he had noticed that she seemed to be less interested in Naru in a romantic context recently.
She even seemed to be getting along with Ayako, the Shinto priestess, when before she had barely been able to stand her in her own icy way. Ayako, if she noticed, wasn't drawing any attention to the change.
Lin focused on the shrine 'maiden.' She had made a special trip of this visit into the city, but unless one knew that she had been spending time reconnecting at the shrines, they would hardly guess it for themselves. She was just as worldly, abrasive and un-priestess-like as one could imagine, and did not at all have the air of a spiritualist renewing her commitments. And yet, that was just what she had been doing the last several months. She hadn't made an issue out of it – Lin rather suspected that she was either embarrassed to show that much sentimentality to her roots to colleagues who were used to seeing a more hard-as-nails persona, or she just didn't think it was anyone's business. The only reason Lin knew as much as he did was she had left her contact information with him, 'In case you boys find yourselves in over your heads and need a real professional to bail you out again.' No one else, to Lin's knowledge, knew about Ayako's pilgrimage, nor was it his place to enlighten them. Still, Lin thought he could see, beneath the usual façade, the devil may care attitude, a much more at ease Ayako. It was like she was more sure of herself and of her abilities, and therefore was more relaxed around other people. She felt less need to prove herself.
Then there was their other spiritualist that was refreshing his ties, though his attitude was the polar opposite of Ayako's. Hosho Takigawa, or 'Monk' as he was so often called in their little circle, had been doing almost the same thing as their priestess, though his trips up to the mountain were short and sporadic. He still had trouble leaving his CDs and his guitar behind for long, and always came back down before they managed to shave his head or the string callouses on his fingers soften. Even so, his skills as a hakkaisou, already formidable, were showing the benefits of his on again, off again training. He never needed help with his confidence, either in his abilities or himself, and he always got on with everyone. His friendly, accepting nature extending to encompass all around him. Still, his already high confidence was receiving a boost, from both his mountain trips and the increasing popularity of his music band.
All of which was probably a very good thing, Lin considered, as even Monk's good humor seemed to be taking some sizable hits. The tall Hong Kong native let his eyes flick quickly over at Mai Taniyama.
Monk had always acted as a kind of older brother to SPR's young receptionist and assistant, watching out for her, making sure she was safe in all of the sticky situations they found themselves in. But recently Lin had become aware of an underlying current in Monk's attention, in his attitude towards Mai. He went out of his way to be kind to her, to make life a little easier for her and to cheer her, joking and teasing with her… He tried so hard to be best friends with her and to get her to pay attention to him, following her around with big puppy dog eyes. It was almost painful to watch because she took so little notice. Her attention was focused elsewhere.
Mai Taniyama had changed quite a bit in the last year, probably the most out of anyone. She was a different person from the naïve school girl they had taken on as an assistant. After she had gotten Lin's arm broken, he remembered with a rueful smirk. She was still very much the school girl, of course. Whenever SPR wasn't taking up every waking moment of her time she attended her classes. She was a sophmore now, with mediocre grades that were likely more a result of her own attention span than their taking time away from her studies. Still, she was cheerful about her scholastic progress, mediocre grades or not. She was finding ways and sources to study the occult, the paranormal and certain areas of history, and was also, to Lin's understanding, trying to find a college focus that would help prepare her for a life in this field. It made sense, and she was enthusiastic, her specialty studies were faring much better than the standard fare the system was requiring of her. She might make a very good colleague when she finished her courses, the combination of studies and field experience making up for her late start.
Lin just hoped that her motivation for so much focus on the paranormal all came from herself, because the other possibility was that she was learning all she could to impress someone; Naru.
It was why Monk was continually striking out when it came to getting Mai's attention, because even after more than a year of little more than cursory attention given to her, she still hoped for something more than friendship from Naru. It would be a poor reason to pursue the line of study that she was, and was blinding her to the open invitation that Monk was laying at her feet. Even worse was that Lin was fairly certain it was a hopeless venture on Mai's part. Naru showed as much interest in Mai now as he ever did.
Not that all of Monk's efforts were in vain, thankfully. While she wasn't cluing in to his intentions quite yet, his kindness and attention was having its effects, leaving good impressions, softening her somewhat to him. Lin held the hope that after a sufficiently long enough period of making no progress with Naru she would be more receptive to affection coming from another source, and would find Monk there waiting for her. Even now he was looking at her, saying something to make her laugh. When she finally did wake up, she was in for a pleasant surprise.
And then there was Naru. Always there was Naru. Lin knew him the longest and best out of anybody in their strange, throw together paranormal family, and knew him better than any other member of the family knew him. And yet, the boy was still something of a mystery to him. His parents, the Shibuyas, had gotten Lin to watch over their son, to guard him. Since taking on the job he had wondered many times if they had meant for Lin to guard him from others or the other way around. Most likely both, all things considered.
Naru was, as always, keeping everything under tight control, from his superhuman abilities to his thoughts and emotions. Quite probably they were all bound up together and the control of one required the control of all. It must have been hard for the boy to grow up his whole life needing that kind of restraint. Lin knew that it was difficult from the outside to deal with, always having to guess at what was going on in his head, and not even being able to ask and get a straight answer. But even he had changed in the last year, though the change in Naru was much subtler than in any of the others. He still showed as much emotion as he ever did – which was to say practically none – and showed neither favor nor disfavor to his many 'fans', but on a friendship level he was softening a surprising amount. When he and Lin had first begun SPR there was no way he would have tolerated, much less encouraged as much interaction and socialization as he did now. Before he had kept himself strictly apart, away from all other humans. Now that was changing. Lin could see it in his eyes even if his face never really showed what he felt. He was happy now in a way he hadn't been before.
But Lin couldn't deny that he felt a certain level of trepidation as he saw Naru become more extroverted. He would like to believe that the feeling came from concern that Naru's tight control might slip, that his opening up to others might lead to a slipup with his powers. After all, hadn't he seen something like that already happen to greater or lesser degree since they had gained this little family? How could he be certain that it wouldn't happen again, and how could he prevent it except by demanding that Naru start cutting ties and become as introverted and avoidant as he had been before? He couldn't, and he wouldn't.
Except that he couldn't convince himself that was what he was worried about. Not really, not quite.
Looking at him now, chatting off and on with Masako, Monk and Mai, every now and again the barest hint of a smile tugging at his lips, Lin couldn't shake the feeling that he was losing Naru. It was a selfish, not to mention foolish sentiment and he knew it, but for so long it had just been him and Naru, working cases, relying on each other and no one else. Now there were others that Naru could turn to, and did quite often now. It felt like Lin was becoming a fifth wheel, unnecessary to the team except for when it came to leg work or filing.
Lin did his best to ignore the feeling. He wasn't losing Naru to anyone or anything, the boy was gaining friends. Thinking that he was becoming less important to the boy was bordering on the weird and needy, and he was not weird and needy. Especially not about the boy he was meant to be protecting. The possibility that he might be feeling needy, needing the attention of Naru, raised some questions that Lin wasn't willing to look at too closely yet, possibly ever. It was too close to the kind of behavior he saw coming out of the girls of the team.
Taking a long sip from his drink, Lin wandered over to the smaller group, to John, Yasuhara and Mori, and at least act like he was more than a fixture. It was a Christmas party after all, there were chirpy seasonal tunes playing and everything, and he would get called out if he didn't make the effort.
When the party finally wound down to a close, Lin was sure to see everyone off, and as per the 'instructions' left by Mai, he handed out a small basket of treats she had prepared to each person as they left. This included Mai herself, who grinned up at him as he handed her the little basket decked out in frills. Lin suspected that she'd asked him to do the handing out to see him doing something vaguely people-orientated and have a chuckle at his expense.
Ah well, let her giggle all she wanted, because Lin had his own little smile before she left. Monk offered to see her home as they were leaving the offices, and after a brief pause and a sideways glance at the earnest man she accepted. It may have been his imagination, but Lin was sure he saw a deeper flicker of understanding cross her face, and there was no doubt about the brief look of exultation that came over Monk's features. It was a small step, but promising, and it made the duty of handing out frilly baskets more bearable, even after Mori's quips.
And then everyone was gone, only he and Naru were left in SPR's offices. It seemed very quiet and empty after the bustle of the small party, the colorful detritus somehow conveying a sense of sad loneliness as it lay in crumpled heaps about the room. A discarded ribbon, an opened envelope forgotten on a side table, several of the cups used to drink punch left where the drinkers had last set them down; all the echoes of lively conversation and interaction of the partygoers, now all gone home and leaving the two of them with nothing but the fading memory. Lin glanced at Naru, who was looking over the scene with his customary blankness, though Lin thought he could detect a certain something about his eyes and mouth that suggested a distaste for the mess the partygoers had left behind.
"You can go home if you like, Naru," he said, and waved a hand around the room. "I'll clean this up before going home myself so everything will be back to normal by tomorrow."
Naru came up out of some kind of private reverie. He shook his head. "I can't leave you alone to clean it all yourself, Lin. It would be grossly unfair. I'll stay and help."
"There's no need. I have some paperwork that needs to be done before I leave as well. The cleaning will hardly affect my schedule, but you need to get going to catch a train to your neighborhood."
Naru tilted his head so he could peer up at Lin from behind his bangs, his blue eyes flashing with a stubbornness that Lin had become very familiar with over the years, and had learned to dread. "I will not have you cleaning up after the rest of us late into the night alone, Lin. And as for any paperwork, I'm sure it can wait until the morning. You stay much later than that and you won't need to go home, you could just stay until we opened again," he added in an exasperated kind of tone. "Come one, let's get everything squared away."
The boy set to and there was nothing for it but to follow suit. There would be no point in trying to dissuade Naru from helping clean the offices once he was determined to do so; making the attempt would only make him more determined and waste time that could be spent in getting the job done. So they both got to work making the rooms clean and habitable again, clearing away the wreckage wrought by nine humans in close quarters enjoying themselves at the end of a long, busy year.
In the end it was a good thing that Lin had the assistance of Naru. He had underestimated the amount of time it would take to set everything to rights again, and without the help, Naru's assessment that he might as well just stay until the next morning would have been very near the mark. As it was, they were both going to be making it home in time for brief naps before coming back to work again. Coffee would be the watchword for tomorrow.
"I noticed," Naru said eventually, consigning several discarded paper plates and plastic cups to a garbage bag held in one hand. "That you were keeping yourself apart from the party. What was the matter? Still not prepared for the Christmas spirit since last year?"
Lin grunted his amused acknowledgement. The others may have had trouble believing it, but Naru was as capable of teasing as anyone else, and frequently enjoyed doing so at Lin's expense. For example: the year before when they had dealt with the spirit of a young boy who liked to possess children and play a variation of hide and seek, and who had latched on to Lin because he resembled his father. No one had been able to resist the opportunity of ribbing him over it, the spectacle of Lin acting as a father figure was too tempting, it would seem. Even for Naru.
"No," he replied, keeping his tone light. "I believe I'm quite over that particular incident. And I wasn't completely apart from the revelry. I did interact with our guests, you just may not have seen, occupied as you were."
Naru snorted. "No, I saw you condescend to speak with the rest of us. But correct me if I'm wrong, you 'interacted' with one person, and that was Mori, wasn't it?"
Lin shrugged, keeping his attention focused on clearing away gaudy Christmas decorations into boxes. "Mori is the person out of our entire party that I have the most history with. It's only natural that I would seek her out as a conversational companion."
"And that conversation centered around, almost exclusively, how my parents were faring and Mori's most recent studies on psychosomatic research. Unless my ears betrayed me, that is."
"Your hearing hasn't become any less sharp over the years, Naru," Lin commented drily. "Yes, that did make up the bulk of our conversation. What of it?"
He saw Naru shrug out of the corner of his eye. "It just seems that, since so much effort was made to make everything as much in the Christmas spirit as possible, it's a shame that you couldn't quite enter into it yourself. Instead of enjoying everyone's company, you stuck with Mori and confined yourself to a subject that was as every day as our jobs. Hardly in keeping with the holiday, Lin."
"As I said, Mori and I have known each other the longest, so it was only natural that-"
"Yes," Naru interrupted impatiently. "You and she have the longest history together and so naturally gravitate towards each other. But it's not as though you have no history with anyone else, and I know that you get on well enough with the rest of our little team that you wouldn't feel awkward around them. And if you were prioritizing your time with people by how well you knew them, why didn't you come to speak with me?" The younger man looked around at him, his expression unreadable. "After Mori, you and I have the longest history. Why avoid me?"
Lin turned his head so that his expression couldn't be read by the very observant younger man. "You were already engaged by a large gathering, your attention was fully occupied," he said, feeling odd echoes of his earlier thoughts in the statement. "It wasn't my place or inclination to interrupt. And as you continued to be surrounded for the evening, I kept back out of good manners."
There was a pause behind him. A pause both from the conversation and the sounds of Naru steadily making his way through his allotment of the cleaning. Lin imagined that the boy stopped everything and was now staring at the back of his head as he continued to work, trying to figure out the meaning of what he had said. Lin wished he could block out that particular mental image, but more than that, he wished that what he was imagining wasn't exactly what was happening, as well.
Eventually the sounds of rustling paper and the garbage bag resumed, and Lin felt like he could breathe again. "I think 'good manners' had little enough to do with it," floated over the dry comment. "I think you'll have to start stepping outside your comfort zone before too long, or find yourself getting dragged out of it."
Lin started at the stray comment, but didn't know how to respond to it. He wasn't completely sure how Naru had meant it to be taken. Still, he thought about it. He thought about what Naru said and what he might be implying when he said 'comfort zone.' No more conversation did they share, however, until the whole room was swept clean of the holiday decorations and remains of the party. When the SPR offices and waiting room were once again looking their old selves, the two of them, tired but satisfied, got ready to return home.
"Will you be able to make it back to your apartment so late at night?"
Naru, who was putting on his coat and scarf, shrugged at the question. "If I miss the last train then I can get a cab."
"I could drive you home, save on the fare and the inconvenience."
Naru looked up at his offer and almost smiled. "No, I'll be fine. Thank you."
"Stubborn boy," Lin muttered, but not unkindly.
If Naru heard the comment he didn't remark on it. Instead he was staring into the now bare room, everything but a now plain tree waiting to be taken out for collection in the morning, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Do you ever wonder, Lin," he said, tone as thoughtful as his face, "if we aren't missing out on something very basic? Something that everyone else seems to be perfectly aware of, but we're not?"
"Such as?" Lin asked with a frown.
"Well, things like this," he said with a wave at the room, though it was now bare of anything he might be referring to. "We're both highly trained and have no shortage of experience when it comes to the practical side of ghost hunting. We can recognize the symbolism and mythos of who knows how many different religions and cultures, but how much do we really experience for ourselves? The simplicity of enjoying what is there rather than knowing it inside out."
Lin looked around the room, remembering how bright and cheerful it had been when Mai had finished decorating it, how proud she had been in her handiwork, and how everyone, upon arriving, had complimented her on it. He recalled how everyone had been able to leave the rest of their weeks at the door and to enjoy the little spot of cheer that had been created. He remembered his own somewhat brooding thoughts during the party, and how he had felt set apart from it all.
"Sometimes it seems like we know too much to really enjoy what's around us," Naru continued, and looked up at Lin, who froze at the expression leveled at him. "That we think too much, we overanalyze to the point where we miss out on the value of what it is that we have."
Then Naru took a step forward, into Lin's personal space. His first instinct was to back away, but something stopped him, some curiosity. What was Naru doing?
"It may be well," he said, his voice lowering so Lin had to concentrate to hear him, "to let go of our need to think everything out to the last detail, and just experience instead." He pointed up, above Lin's head.
Lin didn't want to look away from Naru, who was staring at him with a kind of intensity he had never seen before, but after a second's hesitation he complied. He was standing in the door of SPR, practically under the threshold, and in the frame something green was tacked, just over his head. Something dark green, with thick, rounded leaves and small white berries, all gathered at the stem with a red ribbon and hung where anyone coming in would pass beneath it. Lin blinked at it in dawning comprehension. It was a mistletoe.
A slight pressure on his chest made Lin look back down. It was Naru's hand, placed on him to steady himself as he came up on his toes and leaned forward. As though following the implied directions Naru had given only moments before, Lin deliberately kept himself from thinking and dipped down to meet him halfway, the experience of Naru's lips effectively wiping out any further attempt at thought.
The last coherent thought he did have before they were all taken from him was that he distinctly remembered there not being a mistletoe in the doorway earlier. And that Naru was a sneaky brat, using his abilities when Lin was distracted.