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Don't Ask

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Naru

It hadn't been a pleasant morning. A nearly sleepless night was bad enough, but this was added to by Lin's accusatory silence on the way to the office. The older man hadn't mentioned anything about the roses Tokiwa-san had left on Mai's desk, or how he'd come by looking for her, but Oliver could tell that Lin was thinking about it. Lin was frustratingly talented at saying too much without saying anything. Combined with a few near death experiences due to Lin's erratic driving, Oliver had a raging headache by the time they reached the office. He'd quickly headed to make himself a cup of much-needed tea, praying that he wouldn't have to deal with anymore of the useless bullshit with Mai and Tokiwa-san today.

That was going fairly well, until Mai stormed into his office that afternoon without bothering to knock, slamming the door behind her. Oliver didn't look away from his monitor, feeling the weight of her glare already on him. It didn't matter what had set her off, this was at least his Mai again. The one who got angry.

The following silence was filled only with the sound of her heavy breathing (God, had she run all the way here?) and the click of his keyboard, so he asked, never pausing in his typing, "Is there a problem, Taniyama-san?" The honorific had done well at helping him remember to keep his distance.

"You bet your narcissistic ass there is," she snapped. "What makes you think it's okay to keep putting me down in the first place, much less in front of Shinji?"

Shinji? Ah, she meant Tokiwa-san. Her boyfriend. Oliver sifted through all that had happened since Friday, trying to find something amiss that he'd said. There was nothing.

Apparently, the enraged girl wasn't done yet. "And using honorifics all of a sudden? What the hell? What did I do to incite your wrath this time, your highness?"

He finally looked up at her. Her face was red with rage, her hands firmly on her hips, and she was giving him one of the most furious glares he'd ever seen on her. He could practically see the steam coming out of her ears. If he was being honest with himself, it was adorable. However, this was not the time or place for such reckless honesty, nor was it the time to tease her, no matter how much he was tempted to. "I don't recall saying anything remotely insulting about you in Tokiwa-san's presence," he finally said. That was a safe enough answer.

"Oh, really? So you didn't tell him I was useless, and you couldn't wait to be rid of me? I can put up with the teasing, you stupid jerk, but there are some lines you just don't cross!" She was positively seething. "Remember the last case, when it was me who had to save your sorry ass?"

He remembered the occasion all too well. Along with the very uncomfortable surge of affection he'd felt toward her in that moment, as she'd stood above his downed attacker with a triumphant smile on her face. The girl had been troubling before that, but that moment had made far more of an impression on him than he would care to admit, giving too much space to the stupid emotions he'd worked so hard to suppress. It was really for the best not to think about any of that. Especially not now.

As to the rest of it, though, he had no idea what the hell she was talking about. And the idiotic, insistently emotional side of him was hurt that she'd think such of him, when he was trying his best to avoid hurting her again. He'd been being nice, hadn't he? "Why would I ever claim you're useless? You have proved your worth on multiple occasions." He wasn't going to mention any examples, most especially not the Agawa case. In fact, it was better if he stopped thinking anything about the entire damned case, therefore to avoid anything resembling a memory of that incident.

"Then what the hell did you say to him?"

That was something else he didn't plan on revealing. "That is between him and me."

To his shock, he watched the fight drain out of her, as her shoulders drooped and she stared down at her shoes. "Naru, aren't we friends?"

He raised one eyebrow. "You do realize who you're speaking to, right?"

"But do you hate me?"

And where the hell would she get that idea? "No, Mai. I don't hate you."

But somehow, she was only getting angry again, because no matter what he did, he obviously could never make her happy. "Of course not," she said with an inelegant snort, her arms folding over her chest. "Someone like me just falls beneath your all-important notice, right?"

"I know you're not stupid enough to believe that."

"Then what? Tell me. I'm dying to know."

Instead of answering, though, he forced himself to ask what he really wanted to know, "What exactly do you want from me? I can't bring Gene back."

It was ridiculous how cute that confused face of hers was, not that he was noticing. "Who said anything about him?"

He was feeling the strain of a sleepless night, building in his skull until all he wanted to do was take a sledgehammer to it. "When do you stop? If you're not talking about him, you're thinking about him—it's written all over your face. I know nobody else can measure up, but you insult this boy you're dating at every turn, and then come to take it out on me. How is that fair?" He was calm. Perfectly calm. There was no way he'd let her get to him that easily. Not this time. He was better than that. He could be nice, and it was to his advantage to extricate himself from situations where he was not wanted.

"Well, as nice as it is to know you approve, I can't fall in love with someone just to make you happy, your majesty."

"Obviously." He immediately hated himself for saying that, especially for the bitterness he detected in his own voice. Her happiness was what mattered. His illogical attraction to her was something he could deal with. He would be fine, as long as she was happy.

Her hands clenched into fists. "Listen, you arrogant ass. Do I ever bother you with my feelings? I keep it to myself as much as I can because I respect you and I don't want to burden you. You already rejected me. I get it. Believe me, I wish getting over you was easy, but it's not." Those words were like a rapid combination of punches to the gut, leaving him reeling as she took a breath, her anger fading again as she released it. "Even if I'm not allowed to love you, I thought we were still friends. Why are you acting this way?"

His heart was pounding, an odd twist in his stomach as he stared at her red face. For a moment, he could almost believe she meant him. But he needed to stop looking for something where nothing existed. He was the bad personality, the defective model, and he would do well to remember that. His hands slightly clenched on his keyboard as he fought to get out the words he had to say. He had to shut this down once and for all. "Mai, please don't confuse me with my brother anymore." Nothing hurt. This ridiculous emotion wasn't worth acknowledging. He was fine. At least, he would be.

"I'm not the one who's confused," she snapped, stomping her foot on the ground. "I love you, you idiot scientist, not Gene, not Shinji."

This was a joke. Or a dream. Either way, it was best for him to stay firmly rooted in reality, and ignore that odd elated sensation in his stomach. He fixed his eyes on his monitor again, not seeing any of the words on the screen, but knowing how he had to respond. "That's quite possibly the stupidest thing I've heard you say. You shouldn't glance over decent individuals for someone like me."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?!"

"Tokiwa-san and Gene are both far more deserving of your affection. If you took the time to think, you'd realize that."

"Doesn't sound at all like the narcissist I know," Her tone was challenging, daring him to correct her yet again, but he was not about to take the bait.

"I know my shortcomings," he picked up one of the files on his desk, flipping it open as if he actually cared what was inside it right now. If he could ignore her, maybe she would just go away. He was quite ready to forget all about this. "If that's all—"

"No, that is damn well not all!" One hand slammed down on the wooden top of the desk, while she snatched the folder out of his hand with the other. "You don't have to accept my feelings, not that you ever would. But stop trying to tell me how to feel. You can't control it anymore than I can." The storm of her emotions was already deflating her again with each word. Even worse, he could see the tears in her eyes. "I won't bother you anymore, I promise."

That last plea broke him, and the words were out before he could stop them. "I am. . . not opposed to you bothering me." Her warm brown eyes shot up to meet his, her confusion as apparent and adorable as ever. And maybe, just maybe, it would be okay for him to think that. "How hard is it for you to believe that I care about you, idiot?"

"You're you," she answered simply.

Deciding to get it out and seal his fate rather than seeing her cry, he said, not looking away from those eyes, "Mai, I don't know where you got the idea that I would ever say something like that to Tokiwa-san, but it's not true. I merely asked if you were happy, and told him to take care of you." How was it so easy to say such damning words to this wide-eyed girl?

He watched her eyes widen even more in her surprise as his words sank in, but within a few moments, her anger was back. "That bastard," she seethed, once more becoming a cute bundle of fury as she threw the file she was still holding back onto his desk. "He lied to me! I told him how I felt about you from the start, then he has the gall to steal my first kiss, and then when I get mad at him he flat-out lies to me?" She'd reached a shriek now.

"Don't be so gullible next time, dummy," he said automatically.

"And you!" she jabbed a finger at him. "You're not off the hook yet just because you're being nice! If I'm so damn gullible, how the hell am I supposed to believe you?! Just because I love you doesn't mean I'm going to believe everything you say just because you bat those pretty blue eyes at me!"

Somehow, he found the ground solidifying under his feet again. This was something almost like familiar territory. Honestly, he wasn't sure he could believe her, either. But if this chance was falling so blatantly into his lap, he'd be an idiot not to take it. With an all-too-familiar smirk, he said, "I guess I'll have to prove my sincerity to you, then. I assume you're ending your relationship with Tokiwa-san?"

She huffed, "Oh, please. I did that last night."

"Good. Then would you be willing to join me for dinner tonight?"

But his bravado faded when she didn't blush or stammer or even smile. Instead, her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Why?"

Shit. He'd really just jumped into this, hadn't he? What the fuck was he thinking? And there was no way out. Damn it, how the hell was he even supposed to say it? "It has come to my attention recently," he said slowly, studying the pattern of the desk's wood, "that the affection you insist you have for me. . . may not be entirely unreciprocated?" Fuck it all, why did that sound like a question? Goddammit, he really was not cut out for this.

But after a silence that stretched out far too long, he finally had no choice but to look up at her again. And the change was remarkable. Her eyes had widened considerably, and her mouth had fallen open as she gaped at him. "Really?"

Part of him was tempted to question her intellect, as he turned back to the computer. This was too much. "Maybe. Additional experiments will need to be conducted to achieve more conclusive results."

He heard her take a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Well, I guess I can help with these experiments. As long as you don't get sick of me, that is." Her odd tone caused him to look over again, only to be taken back by the bright smile on her face. Had she ever looked that happy? Probably. It was Mai.

If he were Gene, he would have known exactly what to say. Instead, however, he was an idiot scientist, who had tried very hard to distance himself from such things as much as possible. "That. . . would be nice."

"Then I suppose dinner with you would be nice, too," this brightly smiling Mai said. He saw her hand moving. It was slow, slow enough to give him plenty of time to tell her no. Though apprehensive, he didn't move, allowing her soft, warm fingers to touch his. The feeling was. . . not unpleasant, and caused no errant vision. "Thank you, Naru."

As suddenly as it had been there, the warmth of her hand was gone, and she left his office, the door closing behind her with a quiet click. Oliver was left staring at his door for a long moment before he realized he was smiling, even as the reality of what had happened started to sink in. Maybe, just maybe, this could work out.