It all started with a box of chocolates.
It wasn’t unheard of. Their client’s were usually quite pleased at the SPR's performance when it came to casework. After all, as Naru wouldn’t hesitate to point out, the company had a 100% success rate. And for some, gratitude could not be solely expressed through monetary means.
“Naru! Ono-san left us a box of chocolates as a thank you for our last job.” Mai poked her head somewhat cautiously into the inner workings of the SPR office, aforementioned box proffered in her hands.
Currently occupying themselves with reviewing data neither of her two coworkers bothered to grace her with a response. The rhythmic clicks of a keyboard in use went undisturbed from her intrusion as Lin continued to type. Undeterred, Mai tried again.
After a brief pause of nigh tangible annoyance, Naru lowered the papers he was going over to send a sharp look at the girl in question.
“And?” He pressed coolly. “What do you want me to do about it?”
Mai’s excitement deflated severely at his utter disinterest. “And...well, I thought you guys might want some and I was wondering if I ought to send her a thank you.”
“It would be pointless for us to send a thank you for a thank you.” He told her, his attention returned to his print outs in an unspoken dismissal. “In any case, I dislike sweets.”
“Lin-san?” Mai offered, only to be met by a quick negative wave from the man in question. Enthusiasm thus thoroughly snuffed she lowered the box with a soft sound. “Oh, okay. I’ll just go stick them in the break room then...”
Mai closed the door. Her lips parting in a disappointed sigh before giving way to a huff of irritation. Stuffing the box under an arm, she trudged along the hallway to towards the office’s modest kitchenette, muttering darkly under her breath as she did so.
Honestly, was a ‘thank you for offering’ be too much to ask for?
The cheerful ringing of a bell announced the opening of the office’s front door.
Plastering on a smile, Mai made a quick about face.
“Hello. Can I help-” Stepping quickly into the waiting room, Mai’s smile turned genuine. “Oh, Yasuhara-san! I didn't know you'd be coming by today. How are you?”
“I've been doing well, thank you Taniyama-san.” He grinned cheerfully. Taking off his coat to place it neatly on the coat rack, he lifted a small stack of papers into view. “I've been running errands for our fearless leader.”
“Eh,” Mai's grin fell.
“He seems to be in a little bit of a mood today.” She explained.
“I see,” he glanced back towards the depths of the office thoughtfully before turning his attention back to her.
“Oh!” Feeling a bit silly as she realized that she was still holding onto the chocolates, she raised the box, asking. “Would you like some?”
“Yes, please.” He accepted politely, reaching in to take a piece with a smile. “Something to fortify myself before facing the beast.”
Mai had to quickly bite her lip to smother a giggle. “Yasuhara-san, that's-”
She was interrupted by the front door opening a second time.
“Hello- oh!” Polite secretarial greeting dying on her tongue as she recognized the figure, Mai blinked in surprise. “Bou-san!”
“Hey Jou-chan, long time no see.” The monk gave her a grin, and nodded politely toward Yasuhara. “Yo, Shonen.”
Watching as Takigawa tossed his coat towards the coat rack and snickering softly to herself as he missed terribly, Mai was just about to comment when she realized what had distracted him.
“Ooh, chocolates? Why thank you, don’t mind if I do.”
While she might be tongue tied around her two socially challenged employers the same could never be said about the monk.
“Oh no, don’t even think about it.” Snatching the box back from the monk's grasp, Mai warded off his advance with a well placed arm, sticking out her tongue for good measure as she retorted loftily. “While some people were slacking off, the rest of us actually worked on this case and earned these chocolates.”
“I wasn’t slacking. It was a concert.” He said with just the hint of a whine, then blinked, turning slowly. His eyes focused on the piece that Yasuhara held before giving Mai an accusing look. “He didn't help either. Why does he get some?”
“Ah, but she likes me more.” All innocent smiles, Yasuhara made a show of unwrapping the piece he'd been given. Slowly placing it in his mouth as Takigawa pouted.
Holding the box over her head would have been far more effective if he wasn’t taller than her.
“Yasuhara-san was busy with a test. You, on the other hand, were slacking.” Mai reiterated, a small smile slowly working its way onto her face despite herself. “Besides, I was also thinking of putting the rest of these out for clients.”
The monk's pout deepened.
“Aw, but that's just- Oh!” He cut himself off with a soft gasp, thinking quickly. A wide, mischievous grin took form on his face. “...What if I played you for 'em?”
Reaching back to his fallen coat, a pack of cards was slid out of a side pocket.
“What?! That's just stupid.”
“Just a couple hands...” He coaxed, seeing her look of disbelief.
“Bou-san.” She scolded.
“Five Card Draw?” The pair looked back at Yasuhara in surprise at the suggestion. He gave them a cheeky grin.
“Deal.” Before Mai could say anything more, Takigawa was already nodding along. Sealing the agreement with a curt, manly handshake, he jerking a thumb towards the small coffee table furnishing the office's consultation room. “I warn you though, I am a Master of the draw... Come on Jou-chan, I gonna beat the pants off the pair of you.”
“Wait, but I didn't...”
Her small token resistance proving futile, Mai found herself being dealt in and anted up. The pair of them offering her a whirlwind rundown of the rules as the chocolates were divvied up into three piles.
Playing as best she could, somewhere around their sixth or seventh hand, it was becoming blatantly obvious to Mai that the odds were stacked.
“You’re running out of stuff to ante.” The monk commented mildly, hints of laughter were beginning to become visible around the edges of his grin. In front of him, he boasted a good handful of chocolates. ”You may as well quit now or you won’t get to have any.”
“Now, now, Takigawa-san, no heckling the opposition.” Next to the monk, Yasuhara's winnings were far more impressive. Adjusting his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose, he gave a soft chuckle. “Beside, shouldn't you be more worried about your own hand?”
“Just keep laughing Mr. 'Oh, but I'm a natural poker face', the next round will-”
“I still have three left.” Mai cut into their argument, cross at being dismissed so readily. Passing her spent hand of cards back across the table to be shuffled, she jabbed a finger at the largest piece. “Besides, this one is probably cherry filled. I’d say that makes it worth at least three- Ah! Stop eating the pot!”
Chewing with deliberate slowness as he exaggerated the act of savoring the chocolate morsel Takigawa crushed the empty wrapper in his fist before responding to her frustration with a wide grin. “Fair’s fair. I’m allowed to eat my own winnings you know.”
“Yes, but, you need to give me a chance to win them back!” She argued, patting the table in between them a tad more forcefully. “Come on. Just one more hand!”
Yasuhara was laughing openly now.
“Look.” Pushing the remainder of her sweets into the center of the table, she pressed onward, “How about one more hand for the whole thing?”
The men exchanged a glance.
“I have no objections.” Yasuhara said, casually thrusting his chocolates back into the center of the table as well.
“You asked for it.” Takigawa flexed his fingers and began to shuffle. His grin had confidence written all over it. “Just don’t complain when I win.”
“If you win.”
Takigawa had just finished passing out the last of their cards when he froze, grin replaced with an awkward, strained look.
Pausing at the monk’s actions, Mai blinked. “Bou-san? Aren't you going to check your hand?”
She recognized Naru’s presence a moment too late.
“Yes, please, do go on.” Icy sarcasm was coupled with a flat, humorless stare as the SPR head crossed his arms. “I would hate to think I spoiled your fun.”
Both Mai and Takigawa had the decency to look sheepish. Yasuhara, on the other hand...
“Ah, Shibuya-san! How do you do?” He gestured good-naturedly to the game. “Care to join us?”
Ignoring Mai's faint sputter at Yasuhara's audacity, Naru gave the group a cold stare. Then, taking a step forward, he leaned over table and proceeded to deal himself in. Sparring his hand a glance, he gave an elegant flick of the wrist, promptly fanning his cards out to toss them face up on the table.
“It’s a straight. My win.”
“What?!” Joint dismay was voiced on either side of the table as Takigawa and Mai quickly double checked their cards. Yasuhara merely chuckled, setting his three of a kind down with a wry shake of his head.
“It seems you're correct.” Shrugging off the loss with a bright smile, Yasuhara leaning back in his seat. “Care to collect your winnings?”
“But, you said you don’t like sweets.” Mai brow wrinkled in confusion.
“I don't.” Naru confirmed. “I suppose at the moment I’ll call them a motivational tool.”
Before she had an opportunity to ask what he meant, a single chocolate was tossed lightly in her direction and she was forced to scramble to catch it.
“Make me a cup of tea.” Despite the fact that his expression retained his usual bored look of indifference, Mai could have swore the jerk was laughing at her. Allowing a brief moment for her indignation to set in, he followed through with a second flying chocolate. Turning on his heel to leave the room as he ordered. “Make one for Lin as well.”
“Hey!” Rapidly turning her attention from the chocolates in her hand back to her boss, Mai’s floundering sense of dignity returned with a vengeance. “You can’t just bribe me like I’m some kind of animal! Naru! Naru?!”
The office door clicked shut smoothly in his wake.
He could still hear the muffled sound of the girl’s ranting as she offered her complaints to her companions.
“I thought you were going to bring us tea?” Lin glanced up from his computer screen to the younger man.
“I did.” Reseating himself at his desk, there was a soft rustling as he slid open a drawer. Placing his excess winnings neatly amongst the array of redundant writing supplies, he smirked slightly at the colorfully wrapped chocolates in a rare show of open good humor. “It’s being made as we speak.”
Lin’s gaze moved pointedly to the door, a brow raised in unspoken curiosity at cause of Mai’s continued ill temper.
Naru casually reached into his sleeve, removing a handful of playing cards that followed the chocolates into the drawer. Closing his desk, he gathered up the papers he’d been reviewing once more, tapping them into a neat stack before answering.
“I haven’t the faintest idea.”